David Fincher has a strong claim to being the most prominent filmmaker of his generation. He tackles completely separate stories in a signature style, & everything he has made is really good. It is no surprise for me to say that Gone Girl, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel about a man suspected of having murdered his missing wife, is ominous, gripping, classic Fincher.
I have tried my hardest to avoid spoilers throughout this review; certainly there are no central plot points revealed. If the following reads rather elliptically, it is because to reveal anything feels like a spoiler. The film happens in moments, most lasting a few minutes, fading from and then to black. It is a brilliant technique that gives the sense of chapters, but also of the accumulation of events – everything matters.
As valuable as his talent at creating a movie is Fincher’s nose for a narrative worthy of one, and boy has he picked a winner here. Flynn’s twisted, Machiavellian novel is more inherently dramatic than the uber-geek misogyny and sociopathy of 2011’s A Social Network, and she proves herself the perfect person to adapt her text for screen. She moves us wholesale into the suburban landscape of Nick and Amy Dunne where we see their marriage laid bare (sometimes literally). The more mistruths and corruption we are witness to, the more engaging the film becomes. Instead of playing for shock, gore and cheap, jumpy thrills, Flynn’s writing forefronts themes of secrecy, of deception, and also perception. Fame and its effects are the Vietnam War for 21st century filmmakers, and as a former Entertainment Weekly scribe she has a brilliant eye for how every person is a composite of how they see themselves and how they are seen by others.
Flynn has cited Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? as a major inspiration for her novel; this is a 21st century Fincherian update on that text. There are surface connections – both concern the volatile marriage of a college writer, both involve regular alcohol consumption, and Ben Affleck’s Nick lets out his anger on a glass tumbler just like George in WAOVW. It is the deeper themes in both works that really resound though; the fractious nature of marriage, the inextricable tension between the past and the future, and the different versions of ourselves we present to different people. As George says in the play, ‘Truth and illusion. Who knows the difference, eh, toots?’
Rosamund Pike portrays Amy Dunne with a power I just did not expect – & this is one of the most intriguing aspects of the film. Surely this Hollywood stalwart, a Bond Girl long before she became Gone Girl, should have had such memorable roles earlier in her career. The issue is there are not enough of them being written for women. For every Gone Girl there are dozens of Fight Clubs. Whenever I’ve discussed this imbalance, a recurring response has been ‘perhaps women just aren’t as suited to playing psychologically complex characters’. Pike’s rampant ‘performance’ proves such unfortunate sexism to be simply untrue. Let’s hope Gone Girl paves the way for hordes of great roles for women in mainstream cinema. Ben Affleck is receiving similar plaudits – this is his best work, and bodes well for Batman. Equally as deserving are Kim Dickens, Carrie Coon and Emily Ratajkowski; all players in a perverse game and all acted with exquisite authenticity.
The film is the third collaboration for Fincher’s composing team of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and their work here is extraordinary. Just like the narrative, the sound flits in and out, never making itself too present, and then suddenly your senses are being assaulted and your nails are buried in the arm rests. Reznor and Ross have changed the game when it comes to film scores. They are often cited for their edginess but what impresses me most is their ability to emphasise the drama of the subtlest moments – a conversation; a lone walk; a glance.
One of the greatest credits I can pay the film is, even at two and a half hours, it feels pacy and is never less than enthralling. I couldn’t tear my eyes from the screen for the duration. A sole criticism would be that the very ending feels somewhat anti-climactic given the significant stakes; but even this is deliberate and considered – both writer and director have spoken of their interest in an anti-ending, that does not conclude as we might wish. I simply wanted to spend more time with these characters, a sentiment usually reserved for the pleasant or inspiring. It is a sign of the power of Gone Girl that I felt this way for such a dark movie.