Gone Girl (2014)

Gone Girl (2014)As a long-time David Fincher devotee, the first half hour of Gone Girl represents the first time I’ve doubted the director (full disclosure: I’ve never seen Benjamin Button). The film intercuts between Nick Dunne – writer, bar-owner, Ben Affleck – and his wife Amy – writer, actual-owner-of-the-bar, Rosamund Pike – through the past and present. In the present we follow Nick as he plays The Game of Life at said bar with his sister, Margo (Carrie Coon) before discovering Amy has disappeared from their home, with only an upturned table to hint at her whereabouts. As police investigate her disappearance the past scenes flip through Amy’s journal, recounting her meet-cute with Nick and their marital bliss before it curdled into antipathy.

It was particularly in the latter scenes where my doubts began to mount. It felt profoundly false, with Pike’s performance coming across as rigid and the rhythm of the banter escaping Fincher’s sensibilities, striving for Gilmore Girls but lacking that sharp-edged ‘snap’. Thankfully the film soon revealed that the falseness of the scenes – and the tightness of Pike’s demeanour – is deliberate, while also progressing towards material more suited to Fincher’s aesthetic. (A scene where a pair of police officers roam through an abandoned shopping centre, lit only by roving torchlight and populated by roving derelicts, is straight out of the Fincher playbook.)

Gone Girl is fundamentally about performance and persona, the masks we present to others. Nick finds the persona of the grieving husband ill-fitting – especially as Amy’s journal reveals the deep rifts apparent in their relationship. His interaction with sceptical police officers and fervent journalists sees his discomfort expressed as clumsy grins and awkward explanations, and the façade of the innocent, loyal husband begins to crumble. The scaffolding of Amy’s personality is similarly stripped back as the film progresses; early on we learn that her mother wrote a best-selling book series called Amazing Amy, presenting an exaggerated, perfected version of her daughter, and it becomes clear that Amy has created a fantasy version of herself in much the same way.

Gone Girl is adapted from Gillian Flynn’s novel by the author herself, and much like Fincher’s last book adaptation, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it promises a respectable, straightforward procedural before swerving into pulpy twists. Here, though, Fincher mostly plays down the pulpiness, suggesting a strident attempt to take the subject matter seriously. I’m not sure that’s really possible with the text – which plays into the deepest anxieties of so-called “Men’s Rights Activists” – but perhaps it is with the subtext, which digs into the aforementioned theme of performance along with an excoriation of the modern media cycle.

Personally, I’m unconvinced that there’s enough meat to said subtext to justify this approach, which despite the appearance of a handful of comic actors (Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris, Casey Wilson) hews close to the seriousness of Zodiac. Reflecting on Gone Girl doesn’t leave one with anything more substantial than “we present a persona that people want to see” and “the modern media rushes to judgment too quickly,” neither of which are revelations. (I would argue there’s a missed opportunity to incorporate the self-marketing associated with social media into the narrative, but that’s a different story.) I think a pulpier take would’ve made for a better film, even if it might have scuttled the film’s Oscar ambitions.

Gone Girl is ultimately a mid-level entry in Fincher’s filmography. While it might not be on the level of upper-tier examples like Fight Club, Zodiac, Se7en or The Social Network, it’s still a good film. Pike and Affleck each do an impressive job; the former gets the showier role, but Affleck pulls off one of his better performances in a while, carefully twisting and subverting his natural charisma. The airport-novel-thriller plotline holds your attention throughout its two-and-a-half hours (though the final minutes are its least effective, both narratively and emotionally), thanks in large part to Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor keeping you on edge throughout with their insidiously compelling score. My initial doubts proved unfounded, but the film didn’t quite justify the storm of anticipation that accumulates around a new Fincher film for a fanboy like myself.

Originally published at The Essential.

3.5 stars

15 thoughts on “Gone Girl (2014)

    • I wish I found it more fun! Going to see it a second time (wife wasn’t around for this screening, mostly) and we’ll see if I can find the humour in it that other people seem to! Thanks

  1. Interesting. I heard many people praise how pulpy it was, so I’m surprised you think it wasn’t pulpy enough. I’m seeing this tomorrow, and am very excited.

    • I’m a sucker for clever pulp; I would’ve loved to see Verhoeven’s take on this … I just think Fincher’s noirish sensibilities aren’t the best match for the material. I think you need to crank the pulp up a notch and let the clever subtext float underneath rather than try to emphasis the insidious intelligence of the screenplay (if that makes any sense). Still, “octopus and Scrabble” was great.

    • Thanks! I wasn’t as enamoured of Pike’s performance as everyone else seems to be – it’s a showy role, and while I didn’t think she did badly in it by any stretch, I didn’t think she transcended the role. Given what she’s asked to do (and what she delivers) it wouldn’t surprise me to see her getting an Oscar nod regardless.

      • I think the most surprised I was at a performance in this film was with Tyler Perry. Because, well, Tyler Perry. However, he ended up being one of my favorites.

      • As an Aussie, we don’t really get Tyler Perry films over here, so this was my first exposure to him. Hence I thought he was fine – I don’t think I have the same reaction to him as Americans familiar with his Madea-type stuff do!

  2. As a Fincher fan I read the book in anticipation of seeing the film from the starting point that one of the my favourite directors must have also begun with.

    I have to say, this is the most disappointing Fincher film yet. I didn’t believe the performances, and especially in a film that requires it’s characters to go to such lengths, there was certainly no emotional persuasion from either star. I wasn’t on anyone’s side, I was indifferent to both. I think that’s a major flaw that should have been directed into a more convincing space.

    As for the cinematography and look of the world he created, it was uninspiring at most.

    Terrible casting in Neil Parick Harris – love the actor but he is not for this role. Same for Tyler Perry I’m afraid.

    Cronenburg, Fincher and Glazer have all disappointed this year. GG would get 2 stars in my book.

    • “As for the cinematography and look of the world he created, it was uninspiring at most.”

      I’m mostly in agreement with you here. I think Fincher is best suited to an overly stylised approach, and here he seems to be trying to create something closer to reality (for the most part) and too often it just looks like a better-looking Law & Order (insert Affleck mimicking the L&O theme here). It’s not that it looks bad, but it’s never especially interesting, outside of maybe NPH’s house (which is basically a mimickry of what he did in Dragon Tattoo.

      I’m not sure if the falseness of the performances is necessarily a problem, though. If you view it as a black comedy/satire, the indifference the characters evoke is intentional and, arguably, necessary. I’m not entirely convinced it works as a satire (and I’m likely to going to have more detailed thoughts on the subject after a second viewing), but I think that’s the intent, and it’s certainly consistent with the text/subtext for the performances to be emotionally hollow.

  3. Pingback: Before I Go to Sleep (2014) | ccpopculture

  4. I was impressed with this and hooked whilst watching. I think the pulpiness is still there – I found most of the movie fairly blackly comic and I think Fincher gets how silly the whole thing is, but I do get what you mean about putting an Oscar worthy spin on it; the film actually reminded me a lot of the Silence of the Lambs, which comes from a similar thriller background and is kind of ridiculous when you think about it. I did enjoy the film though, and would be interesting to see how it holds up on repeat viewings!

    I’m not a big fan of Benjamin Button though!

    • I’ve heard a lot of people making the black comedy/satire argument and it definitely intrigues me! I was originally planning on watching it a second time in the cinema and writing a longer, spoilery piece on the film, but a combination of my wife not being that keen on seeing it and every critic on the Internet writing a thinkpiece on the damn film put the kibosh on that!

      Thanks for the comment 🙂

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