Following a recent string of prestigious films that established filmmaker David Fincher as someone who always gets talked about during awards season whenever he makes a film (and a side trip to direct the English language remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), he has seemingly returned to his gleefully nasty, more culturally misanthropic roots with Gone Girl. It’s an absolute blast to watch blending sly wit, campy theatricality, perfect casting, and Fincher’s uniquely controlled style of direction. People who yearned for the day where Fincher would make another film like Fight Club or The Game have gotten their wish. Gone Girl is the best Brian De Palma film that Brian De Palma never made.
Once again adapting a popular, yet hard to discuss without spoiling bestseller (this time adapted by the book’s author, Gillian Flynn), Fincher tackles a lurid tale of an desperately unhappy marriage that has spiralled unbelievably out of control. For five years, Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) have been living a lie of domestic bliss. They appear happy and well adjusted, but Amy barely leaves the house and Nick constantly goes to the townie bar he co-owns with his twin sister (Carrie Coon) to drink his cares away and shit talk his wife behind her back. He’s a writer who hasn’t had steady employment in years, and she’s a trust fund kid who lives largely off the residuals she gets from parents that used her likeness for a series of popular kids books. Then, on the morning of their fifth anniversary, Amy vanishes from their home with signs of a struggle, and it isn’t too long before Nick’s infidelity and debts come to light and he’s implicated in her disappearance or possible murder.
And that’s really all I feel comfortable discussing about the plot of the film because as anyone who has read the book knows, there will reach a point where everything will change and if that moment that comes at roughly the halfway point gets spoiled, the film essentially gets ruined for everyone. The entire purpose of Flynn’s shifting viewpoint structure is to conceal big reveal after big reveal and to make sure that every one of the film’s countless twists hits with a maximum amount of impact. That makes this the perfect feature for someone like Fincher, whose first three films were successful precisely because they played out in this exact same fashion.
It also works because Flynn’s story and characters are unapologetically trashy and not really worthy of being liked outside of Coon’s remarkable work as constantly and understandably pissed off sanest person in the nuthouse. Gone Girl is paperback pulp, and unapologetically designed for airport reading and shock value that would lead to the book being passed among friends for years and years at a time. There will be a lot (and I mean A LOT) of spoiler laden discussion as to whether or not the film comes across as sexist or sleazy or if either of those sentiments are necessary to tell the story. I don’t think there’s necessarily a right or wrong argument for the film, positively or negatively, when it comes down to discussing its virtues or lack thereof because Flynn and Fincher have painstakingly crafted an immersive and heavily detailed world of grotesquerie where the story can play out.
Fincher, wisely picking up on the film’s healthy dose of misanthropy towards every character and mindset, makes two brilliantly wise decisions. First and foremost, he puts his trademarked cold and calculating formalist style into overdrive here, keeping the audience at a distance to not only keep twists hidden, but in a way to protect the audience from getting too close. Only towards then end with a particularly gruesome scene does Fincher ever let the audience get close enough to the material to get their hands dirty. He’s more focused on showcasing the overwhelming, almost circus-like atmosphere that engulfs these characters instead of spending too much time with any one of them specifically. It’s the kind of film where if you see a character by themselves without anyone else around, you just know there’s a huge reveal just around the corner. It’s as gorgeously shot as any of his previous films, and it’s probably his best edited work yet, never once allowing a single second to go to waste before thrusting the audience into another major crisis.
The other wise decision made by Fincher was to tweak the material just enough for the film to become a shockingly hilarious coal black comedy. I doubt that people buying a ticket to Gone Girl without having read the book will figure out all of the twists and mechanics that went into Amy’s disappearance, but I’m sure they’ll have even less of an inkling as to how deeply and darkly funny the whole thing is. This is Fincher making serious material out of something that I don’t think he takes all that seriously as a story. There’s always a winking to the audience that understands how ridiculous everything becomes that’s inviting when the rest of the film wants to remain concealed.
The rosetta stone to understanding just what kind of film Gone Girl really is comes from looking at the casting of Neil Patrick Harris (as one of Amy’s former lovers and a possible stalker), Tyler Perry (as the Johnny Cochrane modeled attorney Nick hires to clear his name), Patrick Fugit (as an exceptionally sarcastic deputy), and Missi Pyle (as a Nancy Grace styled TV news pundit). It’s packed with wonderful bits of stunt casting that are pulled off perfectly by all involved precisely because Fincher wants to bring out the absurdity of the case instead of wallowing in the more salacious and potentially problematic details. If all great cinema is misdirection, than Fincher might be the David Copperfield of directors.
That doesn’t take anything away from the equally well cast leads who seem to have been picked not only because of how great they are as performers, but because of how they look. Affleck looks equally All American and untrustworthy at the same time. His chiseled face often looks like it could either be lying or caring and suave. Fincher even gives him a mannerism and an in joke that forces him to point to his enormous chin to signal that he’s being serious about something. Affleck comes game for whatever the film has to throw at him, leading to some surprisingly nuanced work that could have very easily been phoned in or taken too far over the top.
Similarly, Pike, who at first only gets glimpsed in flashbacks taken from her diary, looks similarly sympathetic and untrustworthy. She’s attractive, friendly, sexy, attentive, but there’s always a sense that she’s trying to keep something covered or that she’s really not as nice and caring of a person as she lets on. We want to believe Amy because Pike does a great job playing up her nicer qualities.
I suppose it spoils nothing to say that Amy and Nick aren’t what they appear to be, neither to each other nor to the audience. I’d love to talk about the second half of the film, but unless you actually see it that would be pointless. But it’s great stuff if you can stomach being around people that will only grow more loathsome over time. You might need to take a long hot shower by the time it’s over, but you’ll have earned the heck out of it and have had fun doing it.