You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s…
[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B00JLC4W0C][/pullquote] Following his mixed attempts to adapt the best-selling novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, David Fincher casts his directorial eye to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Adapted to screen by the author herself and with some modifications to the ending to better suit Fincher’s style, the film is quite unlike any other thriller released this year. Although that’s mainly because it’s secretly a comedy in disguise.
Unemployed writer-turned bar owner Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home on the day of his fifth wedding anniversary to find his home in a state of dramatic disarray and his beautiful, smart, funny wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing. As the hours turn into days, the case attracts the attention of the media circus because of her childhood association with the best-selling ˜Amazing Amy’ books written by Amy’s parents. Detective Boney (Kim Dickens) and Officer Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) launch a massive manhunt with the help of the local townsfolk, but after a series of media relations blunders, the eye of suspicion drifts towards Nick.
Gone Girl sees Fincher back to his genre-challenging best. You might think that the adaptation of a page-turning best-seller might not be the most likely place to find a discussion of the characters and narratives that society use for themselves, or thrust upon one another, but Fincher has never been adverse to interesting thematic discussion under the gloss of a stylised world.
Similarly to Fight Club, Fincher looks deeply into the idea of the trustworthiness of the narrator and the layers and depths of how people present themselves to the world around them, to their friends and to their families. Nothing is ever as it seems, except when it is and you won’t know which it is until it’s either too late or until it doesn’t matter.
Nick’s constant blunders like smiling while posing for selfies and grinning while standing next to an image of his missing wife all add to the discussion of his potential guilt and Fincher expertly leads the audience on a merry dance through the ins and outs of public opinion and reaction.
The voiceover excerpts from Amy’s diary help with all this too and Rosamund Pike is a revelation. It’s a star-making turn and one that is bound to result in some well-deserved nominations in the upcoming awards ceremonies as she reports the internal angst and terror of a woman who appears to have been forgotten and discarded by an abusive husband. This is comfortably the best performance of the actress whose career should clearly be more prominent than it currently is and while she creates a sense of romance and playful intelligence in her voiceovers, her face is mannequin-blank. It is the performance of a quality actor with some actual meat to her character for once. If Tyler Durden’s speeches in Fight Club instilled the passion and fury into a generation of young men, Pike’s Amy does the same for women. There is one particular speech where she discusses the idea of the ˜cool girl’ that is so venomous and so accurate that it could easily inspire people into revolution.
If she is Gone Girl’s Durden then Affleck is her Jack. His job is to portray a morally ambiguous and flawed character who is as duplicitous as he is stupid and weak. His performance is one of subtle nuance and low-key emotional reaction, which underpins the flashier role of Amy. Like his character Affleck is overshadowed by Pike, but also like him it becomes clear that neither would work without the other. For a man with such a checked acting past Affleck appears to playing to stereotype as highlighted when his charismatic defence attorney tells him to stop ˜acting so wooden.’ But he knows, like Nick does that Amy is the star of the show, even if she is absent in the present.
Completing the unusual, but perfect casting are supporting roles for comic actors Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris who again play to type in roles that simmer and pop, but in reality are simply there to highlight the madness of the situation and to further enable the central duo to cut loose. The fact that their comic actors also highlights the truth that might not be apparent upon entering or even leaving the film; Gone Girl is a comedy.
Fincher playfully lures his audience into thinking this is a dark police procedural similar to Zodiac with an opening act that lays the cards on the table, but even then the truth is hidden in plain sight with jokes peppered throughout. By the time we reach the half-way mark he goes berserk and the reality behind the fake frown of the potentially dour investigation reveals itself as the grinning face of a psychotically dark satire.
At 149 minutes in length it’s a long film, but Fincher’s exceptionally eye for detail and the zinging script from Flynn mean that the action never drags and you’re gripped from beginning to end. The half-way revelation helps and sets about what could easily be a completely different film.
Fans of the book will likely be impressed with its like-for-like retelling of the story from the book, but the inadvertent and inappropriate laughter may be lost on them. For everyone else Gone Girl represents everything that is great about Fincher. Unashamed, in-your-face comedy dressed up as a dark thriller. You’ll laugh, you’ll wince and by the time the credits roll you’ll feel uncomfortable that the bizarre and incomprehensible conclusion actually makes perfect sense in the context of the story.