This week’s films reviewed

Gone Girl
Gone Girl
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Ben Affleck is suspected of foul play after wife Rosamund Pike disappears in Gone Girl.

GONE GIRL (18)

Ignorance is bliss when it comes to Gone Girl.

If you haven’t read Gillian Flynn’s 2012 psychological thriller and you know nothing of the serpentine twists that propelled the novel to the top of the bestsellers list then jealously guard your cluelessness.

There’s an undeniable delight watching Flynn wrong-foot us with this spiky satire on media manipulation and the glossy facade of celebrity marriages.

When the central characters promise to love, honour and obey, till death do them part, one of them takes that vow very seriously.

Admittedly, you have to dig deep beneath the surface of David Fincher’s polished film to find the jet black humour but it’s there, walking hand-in-hand with sadism and torture that propel the narrative towards its unconventional denouement.

The film version of Gone Girl is distinguished by a career-best performance from Rosamund Pike as the pretty wife, who vanishes without trace on her fifth wedding anniversary and is presumed dead at the hands of her handsome husband (Ben Affleck).

Pike has to plumb the depths of human emotion in a demanding and complex role, by turns brittle and steely, terrified and driven.

She’s almost certain to earn her first Oscar nomination.

In stark contrast, Affleck is solid but little more as the spouse who pleads his ignorance but hides secrets from the people he adores.

As battles of the sexes go, it’s a resolutely one-sided skirmish.

On the morning of his anniversary, Nick Dunne (Affleck) calls detectives Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) to his home.

There are signs of a struggle and his wife Amy (Pike) is missing.

Nick’s sister Margo (Carrie Coon), who has never liked Amy, assures her sibling that everything will be fine.

“Whoever took her’s bound to bring her back,” she quips cattily.

Nick and Amy’s distraught parents front a high-profile media campaign to secure the safe return of “amazing Amy”.

In the glare of the spotlight, fractures appear in the Dunnes’ marriage and police and public question Nick’s innocence.

Gone Girl holds our attention for the majority of the bloated 149-minute running time, with a couple of lulls and a disjointed final act.

Pike’s mesmerising theatrics light up the screen and there is strong support from Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s creepy old flame.

Fincher’s direction is lean, complemented by snappy editing and a discordant score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who won the Oscar for their music to The Social Network.

Once you regain your balance from Flynn pulling the rug from under your feet, this is a slick yet slightly underwhelming whodunit that doesn’t quite scale the dizzy heights of shock and suspense previously achieved by Jagged Edge, The Usual Suspects or indeed, Fincher’s 2005 film, Se7en.

RATING: 7.5/10

DOLPHIN TALE 2 (U)

Released in 2011, Dolphin Tale fictionalised the incredible true story of a bottlenose called Winter, who was snared in a crab trap in Florida and lost her tail.

The plucky mammal was rushed to nearby Clearwater Marine Hospital where dedicated staff rehabilitated Winter by fitting her with a silicon and plastic tail similar to prosthetics worn by human amputees.

The dolphin’s remarkable recovery and her subsequent celebrity have ensured a steady stream of visitors to Clearwater, where Winter now shares a tank with another bottlenose called Hope.

Filmmaker Charles Martin Smith, who captained the original film, clearly fell in love with Winter because he writes and directs this uplifting yet wholly unnecessary sequel.

Young audiences will happily wade through pools of sugary sentiment in order to enjoy heart-warming scenes with the dolphins and a stranded sea turtle christened Mavis.

Parents, however, won’t find a great deal to buoy their interest besides footage during the end credits of two real-life rescues that inspired Smith’s flimsy script.

Several years have passed since Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble) rescued plucky dolphin Winter with the help of Dr Clay Haskett (Harry Connick Jr) and prosthetics expert Dr Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman).

The teenager now works at Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) with Clay’s spunky daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), his grown-up cousin Kyle (Austin Stowell) and trainer Phoebe (Austin Highsmith).

Families flock to CMA to see Winter, which delights aquarium owner Phillip J Hordern (Tom Nowicki), who hopes to expand the site.

Sadly, those plans are put on hold when Winter’s companion, an elderly dolphin called Panama, dies and leaves the plucky bottlenose without a pool mate.

Under regulations, Winter cannot be housed alone and a visiting inspector (played by director Smith), tells Clay, “I’m giving you 30 days to correct the problem.”

The race begins to find another companion for Winter before Clearwater is forced to give up its beloved dolphin.

Meanwhile, Sawyer realises his feelings for Hazel run deeper than friendship and the lad considers leaving Winter for three months to participate in a prestigious marine biology programme aboard a tall ship.

Dolphin Tale 2 serves no dramatic purpose other than to reignite interest in CMA and its real-life star attraction.

Gamble is a likeable if somewhat bland protagonist and the nascent romance with Zuehlsdorff remains chaste.

Connick Jr flashes his dazzling pearly whites to distract our attention from the hoary dialogue while Freeman makes fleeting appearances as the crotchety prosthetics wizard, who tells one pre-pubescent member of CMA staff, “I’ve got jars of peanut butter older than you.”

Given the product’s short shelf life, his character may not survive for a third splash in the dolphin pool.

RATING: 5/10

DRAFT DAY (15)

In late spring, millions of Americans are glued to prime-time television for the year’s biggest lottery result.

The prizes aren’t money but college football players and the gamblers are the 32 National Football League (NFL) teams, who compete in two conferences each season for the ultimate prize: the Super Bowl.

Comprising seven nail-biting rounds, the NFL draft is the selection process for these teams to identify and anoint the rising stars of the future.

The order of selection is based on the previous season’s results: the lowest ranked teams choose first and the runner-up and winner of Super Bowl choose last to ensure parity.

Before and during the draft, owners and coaches can secretly bargain with rival teams for a better position in the pecking order to ensure they get the player(s) they want.

Ivan Reitman’s lightweight sports drama unfolds on the day of the 2014 NFL draft and uses this high-stakes game of barter, bluff and tactical one-upmanship as a backdrop to one man’s rise from the ashes.

Kevin Costner plays Sonny Weaver Jr, general manager of the Cleveland Browns, whose father died a week before the draft.

Sonny is in a secret relationship with Browns lawyer Ali Parker (Jennifer Garner), who is pregnant with their first child – good news Sonny has kept hidden from his acid-tongued mother (Ellen Burstyn).

The Browns have seventh pick in the draft but Tom Michaels (Patrick St Esprit), general manager of the Seattle Seahawks who have first pick, agrees to sell that prime spot in exchange for Weaver’s first round picks for the next three years.

Team owner Anthony Molina (Frank Langella) pressurises Sonny to take the deal and social media goes into meltdown with speculation that the Browns will select much-fancied quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence).

Browns head coach Vince Penn (Denis Leary) is furious about the terms of the deal, which means he won’t get his choice, running back Ray Jennings (Arian Foster).

As the clock ticks down to the Browns’ first pick, Sonny face a battle of head versus heart to placate fans and his staff.

Draft Day is solid and undemanding entertainment, entwining soap opera plot strands around a fictionalised running of the highpoint of every college football player’s season.

Costner doesn’t break sweat while co-stars scream and shout, not least Langella as the publicity-hungry head honcho, who expects to get his way.

The romantic subplot with Garner lightly simmers but never comes close to the boil.

Scriptwriters Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman keep the tone light and don’t saturate the screen with sporting terminology so British audiences, who prefer their football played by 11 men without helmets, can digest various twists and turns without excessive head-scratching.

RATING: 5/10