Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a husband who files a missing persons report following the disappearance of his wife. But not all is as it seems. Ryan Pollard checks out David Fincher’s latest masterpiece…
The last time David Fincher took a stab at adapting a globally bestselling pot-boiler with an enigmatic femme fatale at the centre of the drama, the result was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a brutal yet captivating English-language remake of an entirely serviceable Danish/Swedish hit. Now, with this gripping, caustic screen adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s global bestseller, Fincher is at the top of his game, mixing the forensic procedural appeal of Zodiac with the playful high-gloss sheen of The Game. Furthermore, he does it in a way that wrong-foots the audience ingeniously, taking us on a merry dance of death through the murderous labyrinths of this modern marriage.
On the occasion of his fifth wedding anniversary, bar owner Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) reports that his beautiful wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), has gone missing. Arriving at the scene of the crime, detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) senses something is amiss and all is not as it appears to be. Growing evidence of financial troubles and domestic disputes soon arise and the finger of suspicion turns towards Nick, and as a result, Nick’s portrait of a blissful union soon begins to crumble around him. Within days, Nick’s smiling sociopath becomes more of a hot topic in the media than the search for his “gone girl” wife, whose own voice is heard through the pages of an incriminating diary, which reveals an alternative reading of their apparently idyllic marriage.
Gone Girl is essentially a bifurcated story. What Gillian Flynn has successfully managed to do well is to take the structure from the book, and confidently reconfigure it for the screen. That was seen by fans of the books as an almost impossible task but yet she overcomes that obstacle terrifically well. One minute it’s part putative murder mystery, the next it’s a cynically sexy social satire, and Fincher himself said that as it gets into the third act, it becomes a somewhat absurdist hyperbolic thriller. The whole film is really about role-playing where everyone is adopting and discarding these projected personas and facades of themselves in a manner that hides revelations about their true narcissistic selves. This is all buried neatly below the surface of unravelling deceit and mistrust. Everyone in the drama is putting on a performance, putting on a mask in order to pretend to be something they are not, editing and rewriting themselves for the public and the media – and for one another.
On one hand, you can see this as a companion piece to The Game, in which Sean Penn elaborately sets up a series of eventful tests that Michael Douglas takes part in unwillingly and unwittingly. But also, with its unhappily “shared” photos and incriminatory TV smiles in an age of social media and rolling news, you could also interpret the film as being a companion piece to The Social Network. In the film, because his uncertain displays of grief and sorrow are deemed insufficient in the eyes of the media and the public, the most important thing for Nick isn’t finding his wife but realigning his public image. So, Nick learns from attorney Tanner Bolt (“the patron saint of wife killers” brilliantly played by Tyler Perry) about how to come across better, so the film is about projected images. Also of course, Amy has already become a quasi-fictional character and somewhat a media celebrity in the public consciousness, having been immortalised (and perversely idealised) in her mother’s bestselling Amazing Amy children’s books, a fairy-tale alter ego that still stalks its host in adulthood. So, all these levels of role-playing and people pretending to be something for themselves and for each other is going on throughout the film. It’s the film’s driving theme.
People have cited Alfred Hitchcock and Henri-Georges Clouzot as stylistic and referential predecessors, and you can clearly understand why as the whole film is about balancing two irreconcilable worlds against each other and the tensions that originate and spark from there. Fincher himself has spoken about the film having a distant connection to Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction, but you can see clear echoes of Paul Verhoeven lurking in the background, particularly in the final act, which is pure Basic Instinct with its she-devil philosophy and orgasmic splashes of blood.
One of the things that Fincher is well known for doing is getting great performances out of his actors, and here, he makes no exception. The supporting players give solid performances: Tyler Perry is great, Missi Pyle being absolutely barnstorming as the vicious news-reader, Neil Patrick Harris deliciously menacing as Amy’s pervy ex-boyfriend, Kim Dickins and Patrick Fugit play a good detective double act, and Carrie Coon is absolutely terrific as the emotional anchor for Affleck’s warped ego. As Nick and Amy, Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, are superbly cast with their differing styles, tastes and stances perfectly complementing the jagged mismatch of their messed up marriage. Affleck perfectly walks the fine line between sympathetic and slimy, lacing his likable Joe shtick with a sly sense of concealment and mistrust.
Nonetheless the film is completely stolen by the absolutely flawless Rosamund Pike, who’s tackling the more complex task of presenting to us a woman that’s sort of living in absentia, existing within a prism-like refraction of everyone’s lives. Having completely immersed herself into the role, both physically and emotionally, she delivers an electrifying performance that also has a sense of hollowness about it, ensuring that she remains truly “gone” even when she’s the drama’s centre stage. Plus, she also gets the best lines in the movie: “We’re so cute I want to punch us in the face,” she tells Nick in one typically dry “romantic” moment; later, she recounts a withering catalogue of soul-destroying wifely duties including drinking beer while “watching Adam Sandler movies”. No wonder she went shopping for a gun on Valentine’s Day. Career defining and iconic, Pike’s Amy Dunne earns her place in Fincher’s gallery of monstrous protagonists.
Gorgeously shot in 6K with handsome widescreen photography by Jeff Cronenweth, whose visual cinematography maintains a stylistically cool and detached view, even as the drama starts to heat up. The film has Fincher’s trademark attention-to-detail approach where he seems to have treated the story almost like a crime scene; he doesn’t want to disturb any of it. Just like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it’s like every single item or object within the scene looks like it’s important and significant to the drama, and as it turns out, some of them are and some of them aren’t with many red herrings suggesting different tangents.
What’s great about the film is that forensic-like attention-to-detail, and many of the stars have talked about Fincher being one of those directors that would shoot a scene again and again and again until he gets it right. So when you watch the film, everything you see on the screen, in every frame and in every crack and crevice, looks like it has been put there on purpose. Plus, because it has this very crystal clear frame to it, it’s almost as if the film is doing to you what it wants you to do, which is to pick it apart and question it. That’s exactly want you’d want from a thriller, and as it gets into the final act, it goes into areas of exploitation and absurdity, which I enjoyed very much. Even though the film is at a lengthy running time of 149 minutes, at no point will you feel fed up with it, because you are so involved in what’s going on. This is a film that stays with you long after the credits have rolled.
Written by Ryan Pollard
Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: Gillian Flynn
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry
Released: 2014 / Genre: Thriller / Country: USA / IMDB