Gone Girl Review
The whole directorial approach to Gone Girl can be summarised in the opening credits. As Ben Affleck’s character Nick Dunne empties the bins in the dawn of suburbia, the cast and crew discreetly appear at the bottom of the screen in perfect tempo with every cut to a new angle. This totally measured rhythm of cuts sums up director David Fincher’s polished, slick formalist vision to filmmaking, both Gone Girl’s biggest strength and weakness. A collection of excellent performances, notably Rosamund Pike, along with a unique and well-constructed narrative can’t stop the nagging feeling everything is just too well made to truly involve the viewer.
Taken from Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel of the same name, the twisting thriller is a perfect match for Fincher’s interest in the underlying depravity of mankind, a theme that filled preceding efforts like Fight Club, Se7en and The Social Network. Flynn’s novel is a classic piece of dystopian suburbia as the apparently perfect couple facade of Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) begins to crumble exposing a less than idyllic relationship. On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary Amy vanishes into thin air under suspicious circumstances leaving husband Nick to deal with the fallout of a police investigation and media witch-hunt. Soon the unspeakable question is on everyone’s lips- “Did the husband kill his wife?”
Like all good films about white picket suburban life Gone Girl is an exposure of underlying, tumultuous reality on the face of the American Dream. The relationships aren’t water tight, the people aren’t happy and their actions are spiteful below the superficial pleasantries. Flynn’s tale, to which she wrote the screenplay, takes the Revolutionary Road idea of a broken relationship struggling to keep face publicly and expands on it exponentially adding twists and turns galore.
Fincher’s enlists the help of his usual team, cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth and editor Kirk Baxter, to create a claustrophobic atmosphere reflective of the truculent dealings. The use of soft lighting and a short focus means the actors loom large on the screen, their faces engulfing the screen in homage to traditional Hollywood glamour. In contrast to their unblemished appearance is the blurry out of focus background that obscures the bigger picture, symptomatic of the devious characters and their devilish web of lies. Fincher and Cronenweth further embellish the idea of subjective truth by constantly shifting perspectives between the entwined couple, reminiscent of Kurosawa’s Rashomon, staging differently with each character’s take.
Just as the cinematography is meticulously polished so is Fincher’s storytelling as. The narrative roves through twists and turns converting the simple premise into a convoluted tale of deceit and lies. With so many plot developments at hand it would be unsurprising if the film became a confusing mess, yet Fincher plans each scene with unerring precision, even the unnerving score never misses a well-placed beat.
For the first hour Gone Girl is pure dramatic mystery filled with tension. Fincher’s methodical approach plays dividends as he swiftly moves the narrative to fit the ever changing circumstances without ever breaking stride or lingering too long. This slick production initially keeps the narrative on track and the tensions high, but once the major twist is unassumingly revealed half way through the suspense evaporates. No longer are we in thriller territory, instead the film becomes a peculiar game of one-upmanship that gets lighter in tone until we eventually slump into melodramatic satire or even parody.
It’s on this crucial moment in the narrative that it suddenly dawns on you- you don’t really empathise with any of these characters or truly find the increasingly ludicrous events plausible in the slightest. Fincher’s formal, methodical approach suddenly becomes very mechanical and saps out any emotional believability of out of the film, its impressive filmmaking but it isn’t emotionally compelling.
This unwanted crescendo peaks in a thankless last 30 minutes. The plot gets increasingly ridiculous and drags aimlessly without adding any real purpose other than to wreck the meticulous structured story before. For the first two hours we are treated to a clever satire on the role of media in manipulating our opinions, manifested in Amy and Nick’s own rose tinted histories, conversely the final quarter is an awkward and laughably daft attempt to round off faltering plot.
With the narrative and staging firmly under Fincher’s decisive control you would think it’s only the actors who could break out of mechanical, cinema by numbers approach. Undoubtedly there are strong performances all over the film but again, it’s becoming a recurring theme, there’s not a huge amount of genuine, raw emotion stemming from the cast. Rosamund Pike is the outstanding performer, startling and engrossing as her Aryan beauty. The snobbish and sinister edge to Amy is perfectly capsulated in her stern looks and pronounced voice that echoes smugly off camera.
Despite Pike’s brilliance there’s barely a sniff of raw, untapped emotion from her body. Amy is supposed to be a cold, calculating fiend but it’s difficult to see her beyond a detached wonder. On the other hand is Ben Affleck who produces an indifferent display that’s adequate without ever really asking him to get out of second gear. Our two protagonists are hammered with straining circumstances yet there are inhumanely unflappable. It’s impossible to really feel for these character when their so consistently manipulative in the face of adversity, they’re more Machiavellian than Machiavelli himself.
Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and Margo Dunne (Carrie Coon) are all superb in the respective roles and add a convincing periphery to the central relationship, the only problem is that we’re not watching for them, Gone Girl is all about Amy and Nick.
Technically it’s difficult to find fault in Gone Girl. The acting is excellent, the narrative is mostly engrossing and the direction pristine as ever from Fincher, but films aren’t always worth the sum of their parts. On an abstract level the film works, media manipulation of events, and the battle of the sexes within it, is frighteningly real, however on a personal level, the emotional involvement we have with Amy and Nick is negligible. The central couple are far too detached from reality in their measured actions, there’s no hysteria or hot headed mistakes from them, only robotic precision to the world closing in on them.
Gone Girl is reminiscent of studying Shakespeare at school- while undoubtedly impressive in its form and content you’re never likely to list it amongst your favourite literature, well made but not particularly likeable.
7/10- Gone and Probably Soon Forgotten