Review: Gone Girl

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If there’s anything to glean from the nature of contemporary televised news, it is that the media will pounce on any nugget of information and inflate it to obscene proportions. No issue is too big and no conflict is too small. Take an aggressive stance on what knowledge you have and feel free to openly speculate on the missing details so that they fit your narrative. Should fresh and conflicting news come to light, simply change your perspective without fear of repercussions. The satire of the industrial media complex is one thematic half of David Fincher’s Gone Girl, a twisty, pitch black comedy that also posits itself as a deconstruction of a dying marriage. With Fincher’s technical prowess on display, Gone Girl is often satisfying as a straight genre piece, but its preoccupations with plot get in the way of truly insightful subtext.

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) looks like he’s been a quarterback in the National Football League for fifteen years. Tall, bulky and a photogenic presence, his face is now plastered across every television in America. His cheeky smile next to the poster of his missing wife fuels vitriol spewed at him from every direction. The morning after the Fourth of July, he stops over at his locally owned bar for a bourbon, prepared to plunge into the depths of divorce. When he comes home, however, he finds his glass table broken in the living room and his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), nowhere to be found. With his cat as the only domestic witness, Nick feels no choice but to file a missing person’s report. As local and federal investigators begin to swarm his house, the mounting evidence begins to point directly at Nick. His problems are compounded when an affair with a younger woman comes to light, and when clues in Amy’s diary are discovered, the mystery takes on a much more insidious tone.

As adapted from the novel of the same name, Gone Girl has a tricky narrative structure. The straight lined, omniscient narrative investigating Amy’s disappearance is cut in parallel with her diary entries, starting with the first day she met Nick. This parallel storytelling works up until the diary entries end at about the film’s midway point, when radical new information makes Gone Girl turn around 180 degrees. What isn’t made clear is how certain characters come to understand this new information. It’s difficult to discuss Gone Girl in full without revealing its major twists, but suffice to say, those surprises make for an engaging 145 minutes. Director Fincher and writer Gillian Flynn trust that the audience can keep up with the amount of material being thrown to them. Part of this is because evidence that was once that was presented early on might have less relevance in the later stages of the story. The subject matter may be dour, but Gone Girl doesn’t dwell on the misery too much, peppering darkly comedic dialogue throughout to keep the story light on its feet.

While he’s never quite been aces as an actor, Ben Affleck wears the role of Nick quite well, able to play on both his surprising intelligence and inevitable susceptibility. A surprise acting standout is Tyler Perry, playing a whip smart, no nonsense TV celebrity lawyer who comes to Nick’s aid when the investigation overwhelms. Rosamund Pike gets a considerably juicy role to take a bite out of, as she reveals a secretly cunning side to Amy, but she never quite rounds her out into a full human. Her presentation in diary flashback displays her as an ethereal, self-idealized echo, and less as a flawed individual. Through the diary entries, we’re provided with brief landmarks in Nick and Amy’s relationship in marriage, but no progression (or in this case, regression). Gone Girl tells us that things went south, but it rarely shows us, save for a few key scenes. Where the film salvages its deconstruction of marriages and how couples secretly (or not so secretly) hurt each other is in its deliciously murky resolution, which avoids wrapping anything up in a tidy bow. The secondary subtext of the media relentlessly hounding on Nick is where the film succeeds most often. While Gone Girl might not shatter the public perception of media manipulation, its depiction is always on point, and comes to a satisfying conclusion in the closing scenes.

David Fincher is no stranger to multi pronged mysteries so Gone Girl is an easy fit. While his technical and compositional precision is abundant in evidence, this may be the most cinematically formal he’s been to date. There are few outlandish camera movements or stylized lighting from cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth. Kirk Baxter’s cutting keeps the pacing at a steady clip, but rarely gives in to the lightning bolt cuts that identify some of Fincher’s other efforts. Even Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ synthesized score serves more of an atmospheric purpose than propelling the story. These aren’t even critiques of the craftsmanship on display since it carries few flaws, but it just draws less attention to itself than Fincher is typically known for. For a narrative as labyrinthine as Gone Girl, where these characters go to disturbing extremes, perhaps a little restraint can speak volumes. One thinks of Fincher here as the Dunne’s cat, a silent witness to the farcical degradation happening all around him.

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~ by romancinema on October 5, 2014.

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