Director: David Fincher
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike
Watch Gone Girl online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Amazon Instant Video
“All we do is cause each other pain.” “That’s marriage.”
That’s Amy Dunne (Pike) to her husband, Nick (Affleck), in Gone Girl. Based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, it’s a dark look at marriage, recasting the human relationship as a battle of control, perfection and perception.
Amy starts out as amazing, the ideal girl for the struggling writer; the kind of woman he can kiss in a sugar storm outside the local bakery, the kind of woman who knows his every move before he does, the kind of woman that the country would miss, if she were to go missing. So when she does, after years of marriage, suspicion immediately falls upon Nick – because that’s how the story normally goes.
So far, so potboiler. But Flynn is aiming higher than that; hers is a story about telling stories.
For David Fincher, a man who made Fight Club, Se7en and The Social Network, it’s a perfect fit. A director who has always enjoyed subverting the surface to uncover the darkness beneath, he’s like a pig in pitch-black mud playing with Flynn’s gender role-reversing puzzle. But he brings an arch sense of humour to proceedings; Gone Girl the book is thriller first, satire second; Gone Girl the film puts satire first. Where readers were perhaps too busy turning pages to chuckle, Fincher lets viewers sit back, detached, and enjoy the absurd melodrama of a stage upon which everyone is a two-dimensional player.
That is not to say that there is nothing to grip: the director tightens up Flynn’s already tight structure, using Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ music to close the walls in around Nick, who finds himself trapped in a narrative out of his control; an unnerving slide from order to chaos that has become Fincher’s particular specialty.
Affleck is wonderful as the suspected husband, a sympathetic screw-up who is still ambiguous enough not to be trusted. Throughout, his mystery is refracted through a TV lens. It soon becomes clear that there is little difference between Kim Dickens’ well-meaning Detective Rhonda and Missi Pyle’s pot-stirring chat show host, Ellen Abbott, who jumps on every twist to craft another judgemental headline. Tyler Perry’s smooth defence lawyer adds to that emphasis upon superficial image, struggling to contain incriminating details, from credit card bills to mobile phone pictures. Fincher, meanwhile, crystallises every moment for the camera, posing these figures with the glossy eye of a superficial magazine cover.
But this is Amy’s show – and Rosamund Pike is a revelation in what is, in many ways, a lead role. After years of (some very shallow) supporting roles, this is the moment where she whips the carpet out from under our feet to show just what she’s capable of. Looming over the events, it’s no coincidence that the movie relies on her old diary entries to form its familiar plot.
A meta-narration full of wry observations, Amy’s remote revelations work wonderfully on the page. Fincher’s long-time editor Kirk Baxter chops it together for the screen with a dizzying efficiency. But it is also a literary device; it is hard to overlook that there is something not very cinematic about diary entries read aloud. It is surprising, given Fincher’s earlier use of Edward Norton’s (equally dark) voiceover in Fight Club, that he doesn’t try something more visual with the material – you wonder whether, had Flynn not adapted her own screenplay, the result might be more visceral. Yes, Gone Girl is good. But it’s not as good as the book.
It is testament to the story (and Pike’s spitting monologues), though, that you keep watching; after the first half, the second drives home his/her point with scathing wit. Neil Patrick Harris provides the biggest laughs here as the smitten Desi Collings, a man whose idea of a perfect night in is octopus and Scrabble. It’s hard not to laugh as he gets caught up in the nationwide web of perception and the Dunnes’ failed struggle for marital perfection. Like us, he discovers, only too late, Fincher’s interpretation of Flynn’s ultra-soapy opera: that the media manhunt is as much a routine act of story-telling as offering little white lies to your spouse or posing for a selfie. “What is going on in their heads?” Fincher asks. After 10 films, the relationship between the director’s audience and his giant screen is as harmful – and rewarding – as any long-term human bond. “All we do is cause each other pain,” says Nick to Amy. She replies, with an arched eyebrow. “That’s marriage.”
Gone Girl is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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