Gone Girl (David Fincher, 2014) – Based on Gillian Flynn’s best selling novel and directed by David Fincher, Gone Girl has all the hallmarks of an awards courting prestige movie on paper. Thankfully, their movie was nothing of the sort. It’s a gleefully trashy, twisty, nasty, lurid little thriller filtered through Fincher’s meticulous visual style and viciously morbid sense of humor. The movie is no earth-shattering masterpiece, but it is a hell of a lot of fun and brilliantly made, which is more than enough.
Discussing the plot is tricky given that as anyone who read Gillian Flynn’s novel or saw this movie in theaters will tell you it’s filled with twists and gearshifts that deserve to be kept secret. I wouldn’t dare spoil the glorious fun. So, in the most basic possible terms, Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike star as a seemingly pretty and perfect couple. They met cute in a fancy pants Manhattan party and court over an endless stream of flirtation and glorious spontaneous sex. Five years later, they live in a beautiful house in one of those idyllic small towns that every American is supposed to crave. Affleck even runs a bar with his sister (Carrie Coon) to extend the happy family. Then one day Affleck comes home to discover signs of a struggle and his wife missing. A massive manhunt funded by his wife’s wealthy parents ensues and even though Kim Dickens’ inquisitive local detective refuses to admit it, there’s no shaking the fact that Affleck is the most likely suspect. Cue media scrutiny, jaw-drop plot twists, unexpected flashbacks, and I should probably stop there even though the story has barely gotten started.
There are many things to love about how well the Gone Girl movie turned out, but the most pleasant surprise is that David Fincher seems to have turned it into a sneaky comedy. That’s not to say that the movie is a laugh-a-second riot by any means. Far from it, the actors play things straight and Fincher films it all in his usual cold n’ clinical style that can make the quietest of throwaway scenes feel inexplicably creepy. In fact, many viewers will take the movie at face value and not even notice what Fincher’s up to. Certainly the opening act keeps the tone rooted in the world of the chilly thriller. Then little signs of silliness slowly appear like a shot of a frilly pink pen framed in a creepy manner and a subtle bleak humor emerges.
When the big twist comes and many others follow, the movie starts to play on two levels. Take it all at face value and Gone Girl is twisty airport novel trash par excellence. But, if embrace the deadpan wit that Fincher has brought to so many of his movies, the film transforms into a sick comedy gently mocking it s own sensationalistic impulses and the absurdity of thriller storytelling. Beyond that, the plot explores themes of gender subversion and media satire that play straight into Fincher’s bleakly comedic impulses. Gone Girl feels like Fincher’s version of an early Brian De Palma or Paul Verhoeven movie that is simultaneously artfully crafted trash and act of self-parody. The difference is that there’s no camp value here, it’s all straight faced, deadpan, and satirical rather than parody. It’s kind of brilliant and hard to miss if you’re attuned to Fincher’s uniquely cynical wit, especially when a stunt cast Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris show up to signal the movie’s real genre.
Beyond the clever black comedy/morbid thriller double act of Fincher’s direction and Flynn’s script, there’s plenty more to admire. Ben Affleck is ingeniously cast in a role that toys with his image and relationship to the media in amusing ways. He’s good simply at handling his uncomfortable husband role, but even better considering how the film uses his real image to its advantage. Rosamund Pike is remarkable for reasons that can’t really be discussed here, but should have gotten her an Oscar nod. The cinematography is beautiful. The pacing carefully controlled so that the structure never feels episodically novelistic and suspense is always on simmer ready to burst. The plot twists even eventually transform the flick into an insightful social and media satire that elevates the material beyond its simple pulpy thriller status.
The movie debuts on Blu-Ray with the care that we’ve come to expect from Fincher. He doesn’t do discs half assed and this is no exception. The visual and audio presentation is astoundingly crisp, clean, and clear. The perfectionist director clearly supervised the transfer himself and delivered a showpiece disc that can rival the quality of anything in your collection. Beyond that, the custom cardboard packaging builds off of the poster image into an evocatively mysterious design. There’s a full Amazing Amy book about the importance of honesty included in the box, which will seem like a bizarre inclusion for those who haven’t seen the movie and a deliciously ironic joke for those who have.
Unfortunately, Fincher slacked on special features this time, offering no documentaries, deleted scenes, camera tests, and whatnot. Given the required secrecy surrounding the project, I suppose that’s appropriate. Thankfully, Fincher did sit down for a commentary track and proves yet again that he’s one of the best in the business at such things. Everything you could want to know about the production is covered, but best of all the commentary makes it quite clear that Fincher does indeed consider this movie to be a dark comedy. Fincher’s deadpan morbid wit is laced throughout the commentary and he frequently can’t help but delight at the fact that he was able to make such a sick joke and call it a mainstream release. It’s a fantastic commentary and along with the hilariously inappropriate book, makes this yet another winner of a Blu-Ray package for Fincher, designed specifically to suit his intentions for the movie.
Above all, Gone Girl works as the ripping yarn and sick fun for grownups that Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo adaptation sadly wasn’t. It’s might ultimately just be a bit of lurid fun, but at least it’s lurid fun made by a filmmaker whose already mastered thriller mechanics and knows how to deliver the goods while also subtly commenting on his own work for like-minded viewers. Gone Girl is David Fincher at his most populist and sneakily subversive.