Review: David Fincher Has Another Dark Masterpiece with 'Gone Girl'
by Jeremy Kirk
October 3, 2014
David Fincher became master of his craft by honing technical skills first, using the newest technology on dozens of music videos and his first slate of films: Se7en, Fight Club, and Panic Room to name a few. A technically gifted film from him now is expected, and it's allowed him to play around with storytelling rules. Gone Girl, Fincher's latest, is more akin to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo than his earlier works, the only constant in his career being an ability to create damn good art. Gone Girl is just that, a cynical thriller bordering on dark comedy too often to be unintentional and another success from a master filmmaker.
Based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, who also serves as screenwriter, it seemed somewhat beneath Fincher to tackle what amounted to little more than an airport - albeit positively received - mystery novel. This, too, is nothing surprisingly new for the man who decided he was going to tell the "Facebook story" with Social Network and bring Dragon Tattoo to American audiences. Within the pages of "Gone Girl" he found the message he wanted to deliver, the sardonic look at relationships and public opinion in the modern age driving the film's beating heart from the very beginning.
Said relationship involves Nick and Amy Dunne (Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, respectively), a married couple struggling through the trials of financial concerns and family illness. On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing. Despite his apparent concern and the help Nick gives the police in figuring out what happened to her, the immediate evidence points to something much more sinister than a simple disappearance or even a kidnapping.
Nick soon finds his life under the magnifying glass of 24-hour media coverage, the Nancy Grace-types of the world who dissect his every expression and precociously labeling him a "murderer" as if the question mark they stick behind the word softens its impact. It isn't soon after, though, that very real secrets begin finding their way out of the woodwork and skeletons about Amy and their marriage begin dancing out of closet.
There's a very good, straightforward narrative to be told with Gone Girl's setup, a standard mystery thriller that would find itself a nice home on TNT Sunday afternoons. Fortunately, neither Fincher nor Flynn are satisfied in telling that story. As with her original novel, Gone Girl's screenplay bounces between present and past, Nick's current predicament juxtaposing with entries in Amy's diary that reveal, at first, a happy marriage that slowly turns sour.
The mystery isn't even where Flynn's deeper message resides. Instead, she offers up the harsh realities of long-term relationships, the forced happiness some tell themselves they've achieved in a loveless marriage, and how quickly someone's world view can change from a simple moment in time or a misplaced gesture.
For this reason Fincher's film tends to lag in the its first half. The mystery, while solid, never hits those moments of absolute fascination that come from the stories told in most of his films. It doesn't even hold a candle to the sheer awe that comes in the second half of Gone Girl, when most of the darker secrets have been revealed and are allowed to play out in their scathing and satirical ways.
It takes some getting to, but, once Gone Girl hits its stride, the pacing in narrative, character, and even mood hardly ever lets up. You're never more than a few minutes away from a revelation or character action that absolutely floors you and shakes up whatever expectations you may have had. To that end, the back half of Gone Girl is superb storytelling for fans who know enough about Fincher to know they can never guess where his progression in story will take them.
Throughout, though, you're treated to a duet of lead performances that are among the best the actors' respective careers have ever given us. It's no secret why Ben Affleck was chosen for the role of Nick Dunne. Above being a helluva good actor, Affleck is genuinely likable, the dark areas of the character's life shaking our preconceived notions about him even further. Not even he can outdo Pike, though. The in-and-out nature of her character to the story makes her something of an afterthought in Gone Girl's earlier moments. Her genuinely flawless performance, however, keeps her importance always at the forefront of the viewer's mind. She has very clear moments to shine despite all this, and she never falters in both subtlety and complexion. Pike is exquisite here, the kind of performance that's a surefire candidate for awards season.
The rest of Gone Girl may be too pessimistic to really turn on the awards charm later this year, but that says more about the ones who vote on the art than the art itself. Harsh as it is to endure, the film is a clearcut winner in style and message, the kind of film that is guaranteed to have audience members - especially the long-term couples in the audience - talking long after the credits roll. Gone Girl is through-and-through a David Fincher film, the musical score from recently frequent collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross adding to the appropriately disjointed atmosphere. Woe be the day when Fincher slips up and gives us something less than stellar, but, until that day comes - No one is counting Alien 3 - we're just going to have to grin and bear the mordant masterpieces he repeatedly delivers.
Jeremy's Rating: 9 out of 10
Follow Jeremy on Twitter - @JeremyKKirk