The Art of Subtlety via Rosamund Pike by Aneesh Raikundalia

Spoiler Warning for 'Gone Girl'!


This weekend I got around to completing Gillian Flynn's 'Gone Girl'. A celebrated novel that was recently adapted into a riveting David Fincher thriller. As with any novel, one thing struck me; the sheer detail in comparison to the ambiguity left lingering in the stomach churning piece of cinema.

I'm not here to debate the merits of one or the other, or make any exaggerated analysis on the whole 'is it sexist?' issue. As much as I'd love to, I'm not up to that challenge.

What I am here to do is to discuss the sheer brilliance in casting that was done for the film. This is probably the most pitch perfect role Ben Affleck could have been cast for at this point in his career- charming, laid back and (too) calm Nick- apart from Batman of course (calm down, fanboys!).

Of course Nick Dunne was never really the problem. The issue came to when casting Amy Elliot Dunne, the (spoiler alert) 'Psycho' who went onto wrench the whole tale apart and twist it in a mind blowing fashion (only of course if you hadn't read the novel).

As David Fincher clearly puts it;

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“Rosamund was someone that I had seen in four or five different movies over 10 years, and I never got a bead on her...I never got a sense of who she was. And I pride myself on being able to watch actors and sort of know instinctively what their utility belt is, and I don’t have that with Rosamund. I didn’t know what she was building off of. There was an opacity there and it was interesting."

Rosamund Pike's opacity clearly won her a role that was being clawed and scratched at for by a bevy of Hollywood A-Listers including eventual producer Reese Witherspoon.

Pike's performance as Amy is one worth celebrating. Sure Julianne Moore deserved an Oscar ('Still Alice') and Marion Cotillard gave one of the finest female performances of modern times ('Two Days, One Night') and I cannot stop doting over Felicity Jones ('Theory of Everything'), but the fact remains that Rosamund Pike was too damn fantastic.

She nailed what he director wanted, a through opacity; a hard to read expression and ambiguity that works perfectly into the essence of her character. A wondrous cool, calm, detachment once we learn the extent to which she is willing to go.

Just look at the first and final frames of this moody cinematic piece and one will see a multitude of expressions to the one face Rosamund Pike keeps, simply by adding depths and layers of context and bias. It takes a chunk of the audiences understanding and thought process to build Pike's performance, but that process creates a fine in tune chemistry that allows the underrated charismatic actor to pull off this daunting role.

She could have gone another was as soon as the façade was pulled away. A method which is clearly relayed in the words of Flynn's mighty pen. Despite having seen the film and then read the book, one can't help but feel as soon as the lengthy climax of the book occurs, that Amy has in fact turned into a full spouting and calculating villain that the pulpy tale deserves.

Yet on screen none of that seen and none of that should be.

Which brings me to my next point, Why am I writing this?

To make you realise how good Rosamund Pike was? No, you already knew that.

How she deserved the Oscar? No she can't get it so there's no point and no she didn't, go watch The Dardenne Brothers 'Two Days, One Night' to know what I'm talking about.

No, why I write this is because so often after a great reveal; the villain of a film tends to become an obvious mark. A blaring, shouting and hammy finger at the audience telling them how stupid they were to not see it along.

All this relates back to the weekend I finished the book. The weekend where I stepped out of the comforts of my house to watch, what should have been one of the best films made by my favorite director; Dibakar Banerjee.

In the finale leading up to Banerjee's adaptation of Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay's novel character 'Detective Byomkesh Bakshi', the script takes such a wide u-turn that one will be shocked and completely disenchanted from the moody, psychological, detective noir.

In its too obvious final reveal, one will find the epitome of bad hammy acting in front of them in the form of revered Indian theatre actor Neeraj Kabi. As the man reveals himself to be the villain of the piece, he goes into a glorified and oft misused evil laughter and then proceeds to ham his way through a series of exposition riddled confrontations and out of tune bloodbaths.

Not that 'Detective Byomkesh Bakshi' is a bad film. With some gritty cinematography, pitch perfect production design, great details, an oft complex story and one fine leading man performance;

It just has great hints of the capabilities of a Dibakar Banerjee, saddled with a mainstream production and too high budget for his own good. All I'm focused on though is Kabi.

Not just the hammy Neeraj Kabi, but a plethora of hammy, out of touch and out of control performances that occur once a film pull its curtains for its greatest reveals.

What causes actors then to go all out? It's what bothers me. I'm sure there are better example of subtlety and nuance shown in the eye of the storm known as a twist, better than Rosamund Pike, but to be truthful none come to mind right now.

Look at some examples of hammy villains and you'll find you've opened a flood gate. Seeking the right ones through all of them becomes an arduous task.

I'll start with one of the most obvious and one hell of a huge cheat. 'Gone Girl' has often been compared to a modern truncated vision of the works of Alfred Hitchcock, in fact the book casually references the director.

So I'll cut big corners and choose 'Psycho'. The film probably has the greatest twist ending of all time and the reveal takes nearly the end to get through. Over there, smiling like he should; Anthony Perkins is the embodiment of brilliantly subtle but brutally effective. Yet (as I cheat through this one) sequels later he is gloriously hammy and is a shadow of the prior performances, former self.

There's more; nobody wants to face it but truth be told, Jack Nicholson in 'Shining' is a ball of scenery chewing madness that cannot be stopped and once the psychological horror builds towards its manic climax, he's out of control. Maybe subtlety was not required here, but one can't be help but what it might have felt like. Sure Shining is the better for it, but that has to be a one off.

Let's take another example of a very different twist ending. Not a villainous reveal but a reveal that has gone into the annals of cinema as the greatest and has been parodied to nigh infinite formulas. None other than Charlton Heston in 'Planet of The Apes'.

In the final reveal once Heston realizes he has been on Earth the whole time, he breaks down.  Nobody can deny, despite being iconic; 'Damn! Them all to hell' was too much to take in, the way Heston says it; kills it for me.

Finally I come to one performance, that's going to have stones pelted at me through the computer screen. The past decades so called most finest performance; Daniel Day Lewis in 'There Will Be Blood'. As slowly the film moves towards its somber climax, one realizes what a terrible man Daniel Plainview is. By the finale he is off the rockers and Lewis plays him such, but once again the product of too much too far comes into play. It was as hammy as hammy can be and honestly you can feel like Lewis is acting (if you watch the film a number of times).

Let's face it, giving classic examples is no good. It proves the opposite; that over the top just works better and good, it cannot be sheer luck that these performances worked despite their loudness. Yet one can see that countless parodies prove the old adage true, these performances are 'So bad, they're good'.

Just like Neeraj Kabi in 'Detective Byomkesh Bakshi', who I'm sure I'll watch again and have a ball with.

It's unfair for me to lampoon such blame on these films and actors who give it their best, but I just wish once subtlety like that seen from Rosamund Pike would find a place in a shocking, startling reveals. It doesn't necessarily give the film its required jolt, but it keeps the audience engaged and the tone intact.

At the end of the day, this is an personal opinion piece. It's more of me venting my frustrations at a great film, that I expected to be better and celebrating a performance in a new movie that I still need to find obvious holes in.

If you feel you have anything to add or debate about please comment below. (Though do remember that I don't claim to be an expert on acting or performances, but just a critic and a fan)

P.S.: Please don't be off put by my comments on 'Detective Byomkesh Bakshi'. It's a fantastic film worth catching and so is all of Dibakar Banerjee's majestic filmography