Review: Gone Girl – A corker in absentia

DAVID Fincher’s track record with the thriller genre is unimpeachable. Benjamin Button aside, his career has had thrillers as its bedrock. The man apparently shits intrigue and pisses trickery; little surprise, then, that Gone Girl, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel, is a film that features both of these traits in spades. Blessed with a bending plot, some terrific performances and enough satire to print a hundred issues of Private Eye, Fincher’s latest tackles the pitfalls of modern marriage and the mass media circus with wit and delicious bite.

Adapted by Flynn herself, Gone Girl follows the web of deceit and misdirection woven by the disappearance (presumed kidnap) of Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike). Her baffled husband, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), finds himself at the mercy of a media onslaught where his awkward behaviour leads to accusations of sociopathy and even culpability; the plot only thickens as we learn of the disintegration of the Dunnes’ marriage.

What starts off as an engrossing mystery descends into a pot-boiling, frame-spinning absurdity that only gets more and more lavishly ridiculous as it spirals on. The machinations of the players involved are far too perfect to be believable; like Sherlock Holmes’ Super-Sleuth Vision™ on crack, the answers to the riddles posed by the plot are so intricate and precise that they read like, funnily enough, solutions to mysteries in a thriller. Much like the plot proper, the characters’ reactions and motivations slowly lurch from plausible to implausible until we’re left screaming “WHY” at the screen.

I appear missing: Ben Affleck still atoning for Pearl Harbor.

I appear missing: Ben Affleck still trying to atone for Pearl Harbor.

Thankfully, Fincher’s reliably assured direction and the central performances from Affleck and Pike ease our qualms about the plot. Further, despite the narrative itself being stretched to a probably-too-long 150 minutes, Flynn’s dialogue is snappy and involving, spoken with real verve by the actors. Fincher washes the frame in cold blues and art deco edge, his tableaus of American suburbia rife with illusions of domestic bliss and white-picket paranoia.

Outside of suburbia, we’re stranded in claustrophobic interiors, mirroring the characters’ entrapment within their complex milieu of lies. It is also through these calculated environments – often resembling a crime scene – that Fincher enacts one of the film’s central themes: manipulation. On both sides of the dividing line – a change heralded by a heartstopping moment smack bang in the middle of the film – characters are forced to contend with manipulating the media as the media manipulates them.

Affleck’s down-on-his-luck shlubbing is slowly revealed to be a conscious act of concealment; the same can be said for “cool girl” Pike, her painfully-effected laizzesfaire attitude a veil with which she hides her darker thoughts and fears (narrated to us via diary). Neither performance ever feels on-the-surface, with new layers of depth added as the film goes on, constantly leading us to re-evaluate the characters even as they’re questioning and re-assembling themselves.

Amy, after all, already has a fictional counterpart of her own: ‘Amazing Amy’, star of a series of children’s books based on a tweaked version of her own life; a fascinating plot point that’s unfortunately never quite touched upon in any significant way, but one that prefigures Amy’s chameleonic tendencies.

Ice queen: Rosamund Pike still trying to atone for Die Another Day.

Ice queen: Rosamund Pike still trying to atone for Die Another Day.

Polar opposites silently resenting each other, the Dunnes encapsulate a brutal analysis of a modern marriage. With the addition of acid-tongued cable TV anchors (Missi Pyle and Sela Ward) sniping away from the pervasive static of background televisions, it’s also a scathing swipe at media sensationalism and insensitivity. There’s also “patron saint of wife killers” premium defence attorney Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry, mercifully sans Madea), hired by Affleck to reshape his image into a more public-friendly one. Everything is a performance; the only thing that matters is how good you are at it.

Jeff Cronenweth’s cinematography remains detached and glacial even as the plot rapidly derails, framing proceedings with a lurking sense of dread. Able supporting performances from Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s creepy ex, Connie Coon as Nick’s perennially mortified sister and Kim Dickens as the sceptical detective in charge of the investigation handily compliment Affleck and Pike’s fantastic leads. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ brilliant score further intensifies proceedings, often lurching from organic strings and piano to industrial synths.

Fincher – a famed control freak – has managed to craft a taut and engaging thriller out of a very silly premise. Its tone never shifts, despite the cartwheeling plot and baffling decisions of its characters; though the pace slackens, burgeoning beneath a 150-minute bulk, it’s merely to prepare us for the revelations within the next twist. For all its flaws – particularly a faintly laughable final third and a questionable ending –  Gone Girl is another exceptionally well-made entry into Fincher’s filmography that boasts some inspired direction, absorbing performances and a cracking soundtrack. Business as usual, then.

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