To some people, there is no greater nightmare then being trapped in the thralls of commitment, isolated to relying on only one other person for the rest of their lives in the warped institution we call marriage. To any one of those people who ever felt alone, don’t worry, David Fincher understands you, and with Gone Girl, an adaptation of the popular Gillian Flynn novel, he has created a warped, winding, and disturbing thriller to make all of your worst fears come true.
The story centers on Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), a middle aged and deeply unhappy bar owner, and part time creative writing professor living in Missouri with his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike), who he has deeply grown apart from. On the morning of their fifth anniversary, Nick comes home from sulking in self pity at the bar to find his glass table flipped over, and his wife missing. The police become involved, and a massive media frenzy starts to build, all around the suspicious nature of the case. You see, there’s plenty of significant evidence, but it’s not for a kidnapping, but for a murder, and the only person who seems capable of it is Nick himself, who’s cold reaction to the whole situation certainly isn’t helping matters.
David Fincher is one of those directors who no matter what they tackle, I’m supremely confident that it will be something special. His ambient, chilling sensibility has been a godsend in creating some of the best thrillers of the past two decades. While he’s certainly able to step outside this genre, he’s definitely most comfortable in it, and therein lies both Gone Girl’s greatest strength and weakness. While it’s definitely a masterfully orchestrated story, it also has a slight undercurrent of redundancy, as if Fincher has already made it.
This mostly isn’t the fault of the material however, which is chock full of some of the best characters and performances of the year. A great deal of people feel very negatively towards Ben Affleck for one reason or another, but here he definitively proves himself as an actor, turning in a career best turn as a man who’s been so beaten down by dying love, that he can’t even seem to summon extreme emotions in extreme circumstances. To go along with this, the film brilliantly plays into Affleck’s public perception, using what are sure to be some conceived notions of several audience members, and builds those into this mass of media hatred that comes to envelop this character. The supporting cast is equally strong. Carrie Coon has several wrenching scenes with Affleck as his twin sister, the only person whom he can really trust, Neil Patrick Harris is appropriately creepy and awkward as one of Amy’s former stalkers, and to my utter shock, Tyler Perry steals every scene he’s in as Tanner Bolt, a savvy lawyer who makes saving Affleck from the death penalty his personal mission.
Now, throughout that paragraph, you were probably mentally (or physically, whatever floats your boat) yelling about the omission of Rosamund Pike from the praise pile. I am both aware of, and very happy for the amount of praise that she has received for this performance, but unfortunately it just didn’t work for me, and is the first glaring weakness of the film. Amy, as we come to learn, is an extremely complex character, her mania expanding beyond the bounds of spoilers. While Pike certainly does a fair job of selling the deliberate madness of Amy’s dilemma, she never really knocks the emotional end of it out of the park. She’s always very shrill, and extremely cold, making it difficult for the audience to sympathize with her, making the moral quandary of the whole film seem a little more cut and dry then it could have been. It’s not an awful turn by any means, but it’s certainly weak in comparison to her cast-mates and since she’s such a prominent figure, that definitely hinders the narrative.
As per-usual, David Fincher’s direction is near-flawless. Not only does he have a surgical understanding of the storytelling conventions for this type of film, streamlining it just enough to make it complicated and yet comprehensible, but also, he ensures that there isn’t a wasted frame in the entire two and half hours. This is a gorgeous looking movie that fills the suburbs of Missouri with a sense of eerie dread and foreboding. Gillian Flynn’s screenplay is a great aid as well, taking her already very cinematic book and giving it that just that slight bit of extra oomph, with strong dialogue and ever present themes of the nature of commitment, and the depraved places people will go when they feel crushed by that commitment.
Honestly, my major issue with this film might just be a problem of expectation, but despite how well made this movie is, it really feels like just another day at the office for Fincher. He’s used a very similar storytelling aesthetic, down to the Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross score (which in certain scenes seems to annoyingly drown out the audio for some reason) for many years now, and it’s starting to feel just a little stale. There are several moments in this film that could have been straight out of Zodiac, Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, or even to a certain degree, The Social Network. It’s nothing that cripples the film, but it certainly hinders the film’s impact on me.
Don’t get me wrong though, you will get more than you bargained for if you check see Gone Girl. It’s a deeply fascinating story full of fantastic performances, particularly by Affleck, who really does deserve an oscar nomination, and unpredictable turns, and if you have seen fewer Fincher films that I have, you’ll probably leave blown away. Personally, I hope that his next project is something like Benjamin Button, that breaks his formula a little bit, but in the meantime, I’m more than happy to be held over by this, and something tells me I’ll appreciate it more on a second viewing.