I find David Fincher a little tougher to compare with many of the contemporaries he’s often mentioned with; American directors who emerged in the early nineties and now enjoy high reputations among film fans. I think this is primarily because unlike most of them, he’s not a writer at all and the majority of his films are based on books, varying ones at that. While there are cinematic techniques he’s known for, his films do not all resemble one another either, compare the flashy, stylised visuals of Fight Club or Panic Room to the more subdued ones in The Social Network and Zodiac. And just where does The Curious Case of Benjamin Button fit in? Would anyone have pinpointed it as a Fincher film had they seen it without knowing he was the director? I bring this up as I found it mildly disappointing to hear he was going to follow-up his unnecessary remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, a very popular if controversial novel from 2012. Fincher looked to have stepped into being the go-to-guy for crime bestseller movies. (Also for the record, I started reading Gone Girl not long after it came out and gave up after 100 pages or so, it did very little for me).
Gone Girl is on some level, the Fincher film that most resembles another; Dragon Tattoo. He’s working with many of the same collaborators, cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, editor Kirk Baxter and composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who also worked on The Social Network). Fincher may be heading towards a more immediately recognizable style at this stage in his career but all parties do stellar work. I was wrong in my trepidation with this, Fincher is back on top form and delivers another essential film.
Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a formerly successful New York writer who has returned to his hometown in Missouri to run a bar with his sister. His wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is a native New Yorker who comes from a wealthy background. They moved partly due to both losing their jobs and Nick’s mother being diagnosed with terminal cancer. They’ve been there for three years now, Nick’s mother has passed on, their marriage is on the rocks and then, on their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick returns home to find Amy is missing. A smashed table appears to suggest a crime scene, and soon the detectives Nick calls find traces of blood.
To those unfamiliar with the source material, it might sound like Gone Girl is setting up a rather straightforward whodunnit scenario. That aspect is certainly there, and Gone Girl has a few scenes reminiscent of a police procedural, but there’s so much more to it. The story intertwines two narratives from the start, one, that of the disappearance, is told from Nick’s perspective. This is intercut with flashbacks dating back to the start of his and Amy’s relationship, narrated by Amy reading from her diary. Fincher balances the two perfectly, with the flashbacks complementing and fleshing out our knowledge of the present storyline, without ever intruding on the narrative.
In addition to the romance and mystery strands, it soon takes another turn when Nick finds himself the prime suspect and accused of killing Amy. From here it adds on delicious layers of pointed media satire, as more and more reporters flock to Nick, analysing his every public move for signs that he might not really be who he says. Amy, you see, is a sort-of minor celebrity; her mother wrote a series of books based on her as a child, portraying her in a way she felt she never lived-up to. Now her parents and the media have every intention to use the ‘Amazing Amy’ name recognition to endear her to the nation’s masses to create a sensation around her vanishing. Of all the many praiseworthy elements to Gone Girl, I think it’s handling of this media circus might be the jewel. When Affleck briefly smiles during a flurry of camera flashes, you just know that’s the still that’ll be smeared all over the news.
Given his recent reputational rehabilitation and award winning work behind the camera, I have been a little disappointed to see Ben Affleck choosing to return to major acting roles recently. I think he revealed himself to be a much better director than he ever was an actor but his casting here is spot-on. He looks just like a blandly handsome, small-town all-American boy who people could be drawn to yet also can convey an arrogance that can turn them just as easily against him. Indeed Fincher’s casting is excellent, if unconventional across the board. Neil Patrick Harris as a wealthy former boyfriend of Amy’s, Patrick Fugit as a deadpan detective, Missi Pyle as a trashy TV host, even Tyler Perry (!) scoring broader laughs as a high-flying defence attorney.
The two real stand-outs though, come from Kim Dickens as the no-nonsense detective in charge of the investigation, and Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin sister Margo. Coon’s an actress who’s totally new to me, but she’s brilliant here, and Gone Girl joins the scant ranks of films that portray the more interesting dynamics of sibling relationships. Characters like these, that could easily have been one-note side-line players emphasise the need for more talented female screenwriters to be given work in Hollywood (Flynn adapted the book herself).
At the centre of it all is Rosamund Pike’s work as Amy though, she’s been around in this-and-that since first gaining attention in Die Another Day (which we should probably all forget about) but has never had a role to showcase her talent like this. It’s a potentially star-making role, requiring a great deal from an actress that Pike easily lives up to. It’s impossible to go into details why in a non-spoiler review so I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear her name flung around come awards season.
Come to think of it, it’s not easy to write much about Gone Girl at all without delving deep into spoiler territory. Its loopy narrative twists all over the place, revealing new layers to Amy and Nick at every turn. Gone Girl evokes trashier nineties thrillers and with some themes; Hitchcock, but Fincher crafts a none-more-modern film that’s bang up to date with its incorporation of technology and the news media.
I don’t know after only one viewing if Gone Girl will have the depth or lasting power of Fincher’s best films, but it’s one of those rare occasions when I had to double check my watch leaving the cinema as I couldn’t quite believe that the film was as long as it is. It just flew by, and has lingered on in my mind for several days now. It’s a gripping, thought-provoking, expertly made piece of squarely adult entertainment of the type that’s rarely seen selling out the multiplexes.