DVD REVIEW: Before I Go To Sleep, Gone Girl, The Hundred Foot Journey

CAPTIVATING: Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth in the film Before I Go To Sleep.Universal Sony, 88 minutes

NICOLE Kidman is a hit-and-miss movie star. When she’s bad, you usually blame the script – it’s too stilted, the character doesn’t fit the role, the lines are unnatural. But when she’s good, she owns the screen.

In this role, we enjoy the best side of Kidman in the role of Christine, a confused, suspicious housewife who is trying to figure out how she became a clueless captive in her own home.

We open to her rising from bed in the morning, seeing pictures of her life in a collage on the wall – happy days, wedding etc – and having her husband Ben (Colin Firth) explaining how she wakes every day with no memory of her past.

We are quickly introduced to an interloper, Dr Nasch, a neuropsychologist played by Ben Strong, who is attempting to help her regain her memory, and life.

And thus begins an intriguing thriller, as Kidman pieces together the elements – who attacked her and nearly killed her, and why? Who was she? Who did she love? Who can she trust?

Colin Firth is a natural in such roles. He’s the stand-up guy, but not necessarily the good guy. And he’s a good match for Kidman.

Rating: ★★★

– Jim Kellar

20th Century Fox, 145 minutes

GILLIAN Flynn’s 2012 novel Gone Girl was one of those rare books with something for everyone: both an ingenious thriller (the plot is worthy of Wilkie Collins) and an up-to-date satire on the battle of the sexes, sparing neither male smugness nor pseudo-feminist sanctimony.

Though Flynn’s prose may be more smart-alecky than witty, her sharpest jibes cut deep, as in the legendary passage dissecting the male fantasy of the “Cool Girl” – the kind of chilled-out hottie who maintains her ultra-feminine appeal while cursing and guzzling hot dogs like one of the guys.

Clearly Gone Girl was always going to be a movie, whatever challenges for the would-be adaptor might be posed by its convoluted dual-narrator structure. In the event, the very capable script was written by Flynn herself, presumably with input from director David Fincher, one of the most distinctive artistic personalities in today’s Hollywood.

Like every other ambitious American male filmmaker of a certain age, Fincher wants to be Stanley Kubrick, which is to say both an uncompromising artist and a showman capable of reaching the widest public. In Fincher’s case, this often means snapping up the rights to racy bestsellers – Fight Club and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – which he can film with outward fidelity while pursuing more secretive aesthetic goals.

In a phrase, Gone Girl could be summed up as a film about image management, a central concern for characters and filmmaker alike. The protagonists – both sometime media professionals – are “types” who recognise themselves as such: Nick Elliott (Ben Affleck) is the regular guy who woos and wins golden girl Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), then takes her back to his Missouri home town, where their marriage falls apart. When she vanishes one morning, Nick becomes a suspect in her murder – and as viewers, we’re given no guarantees about whom we should believe, though entries from Amy’s diary, dramatised in flashback, fill in some of the puzzle pieces.

Fincher’s style has changed little since Zodiac, now identifiable as his first “mature” film: tungsten lighting, limited camera movement, a sharp eye and ear for significant detail, and a funereal tone offset by fleet editing that compels us to pay attention or risk missing a clue.

Thematically, the film can be seen as a sequel to Fincher’s Facebook origin story The Social Network, engaging rather more directly with the contemporary reality of social media. Once news of the disappearance goes public, TV pundits and everyday folk are equally quick to take sides – Team Amy or Team Nick? – even as the viewer is made to suspect that both parties have plenty to hide.

As narrators of the book, Nick and Amy address the reader directly, commenting on the distance between their public and private selves. While Fincher can’t replicate this effect on film, he achieves an equivalent kind of irony simply by putting the naturally smarmy Affleck in a role that capitalises on the unbelievability of his good-guy screen persona. Other instances of stunt casting include Tyler Perry as a purring defence attorney and Neil Patrick Harris as the kind of well-spoken nutcase John Lithgow used to play for Brian de Palma.

It’s interesting to wonder how the balance of Gone Girl might have shifted if the female lead were played by an established star such as Reese Witherspoon, one of the film’s producers, or even Katherine Heigl (Grey’s Anatomy), whose refusal to be “Cool Girl” has defined her career. But Fincher is pursuing a very specific strategy in his choice of Pike, who’s less of a known quantity.

With a fraction of Affleck’s screen time, Pike has a much trickier role: she has to be poised and opaque, calm but with hints of treacherous depths. Floating through the narrative like a ghost, she embodies the aloofness that is both the film’s strength and its weakness. Fincher is not interested in the cliche of the glamorous femme fatale – but nor can he summon any trace of the romantic-comedy warmth that would give us an emotional investment in Nick and Amy’s relationship.

Rating: ★★★

– Jake Wilson

FEEL-GOOD FILM: Helen Mirren stars as Madame Mallory, the chef proprietress of a classical Michelin-starred French restaurant, in The Hundred-Foot Journey.

Buena Vista, 122 minutes

LASSE Hallstrom has created another French pastoral fairyland, much like the one he designed in 2000 for his hit adaptation of Joanne Harris’s Chocolat. And again he’s telling a story about the healing powers of good cooking.

It’s a well-stocked genre. Devotees make up lists which invariably include Babette’s Feast and Eat Drink Man Woman, and sceptics dismiss it all as “food porn”.

Hallstrom is a devotee of the feelgood movie. He makes all sorts. At his best, he can turn out something like Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, distinguished by a great cast displaying a flair for handling light, dry dialogue. At his worst, he resorts to Nicholas Sparks adaptations.

The Hundred-Foot Journey is at the Salmon Fishing end of the range. For one thing, it stars Helen Mirren, who has enough backbone to stop anything turning to mush, and as her sparring partner, she has Indian cinema’s veteran strongman Om Puri.

They play rival restaurateurs in a tiny French village in an idyllic stretch of the Midi-Pyrenees, where Mirren’s Madame Mallory has been running her establishment, Le Saule Pleureur, along classic French lines for decades. It’s housed in an elegant 19th-century manor house and has a Michelin star. Naturally, she isn’t pleased when the Kadams, who have been forced to uproot themselves from Mumbai, buy a disused farmhouse opposite her and open Maison Mumbai. While its neon lights and pulsing Bollywood music are bad enough, its kitchen aromas immediately go to war with the delicate scent of her “pigeon aux truffes”.

It’s a stand-off until the Kadams’ son and chef, Hassan (Manish Dayal), begins to take an interest in French cuisine while developing a crush on Madame Mallory’s sous chef, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon).

The script is adapted from Richard C. Morais’ bestselling novel by Steven Knight, whose earlier engagements with multiculturalism have had a much harder edge (Dirty Pretty Things; Eastern Promises). Here, he sets a much more leisurely pace. Or maybe it’s Hallstrom’s fondness for loitering in slow-mo over each culinary creation, but it’s a slow-going film and often makes a meal out of stating the obvious.

But Mirren and the exuberant Puri extract nice comic moments from their sedate explorations of the theory that opposites attract, and Le Bon and the equally beautiful Dayal make beguiling lovers.

As usual, Hallstrom does send you home feeling good, but you may experience a strong urge to doze off at the 50-foot mark.

Rating: ★★★

– Sandra Hall

The winners of the Sin City: A Dame to Kill For DVDs are: B. Anderson, of Lambton; L. Roach, of Windale; B. Dunkley, of North Lambton; E. Rentell, of Charlestown; and D. Threlfall, of Floraville.

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