When what should have been your happy ending becomes a cage and your sense of identity starts slipping away, how do you take back control without admitting you made a mistake? Without losing face or damaging your ego? You tell yourself who’s really responsible, and you punish them accordingly. With Gone Girl, director David Fincher and writer Gillian Flynn (adapting her own bestselling novel) delve into the darkest depths of marriage. Trust, security and the thrill of falling in love exist only in rose-tinted recounts. This is a story about isolation, resentment and, above all, control.
On the day of his fifth anniversary, out-of-work journalist Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) comes home to signs of a struggle with his wife nowhere to be seen. The inspiration for her father’s beloved series of “Amazing Amy” novels, his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) has grown up with significant celebrity, causing her disappearance to become a national fixation. The film goes back and forth between Amy’s highly romanticised retrospective of their relationship, and Nick’s inability to maintain control of the situation as his disdain for his marriage begins to surface and the evidence starts piling against him.
Gone Girl proves to be a much more theatrical and confronting thriller than the more subtly melancholy picture painted by the trailers. Mind games and media manipulation provide the majority of the film’s conflict, but fleeting moments of violence and gore (somehow made beautiful in that way only Fincher is capable) remind you what these characters are capable of and keeps you on the edge of your seat. All of which contrasts wonderfully with the glossy pretension of Amy’s flashbacks to definitively communicate this husband and wife do not live in the same world. These scenes run the risk of converting poorly from book to film, as their jewellery-commercial dialogue could prove difficult to stomach when being heard by actors and not read on a page. But Fincher embraces their pompousness and, with some clever musical motifs from composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, you instinctively know they’re meant to be taken with a grain of salt.
While this does put Gone Girl on the forefront of common adaption shortcomings, it comes with an odd side-effect that robs the film’s first half of some of the tension it tries to create. The ‘did he/didn’t he’ question of Nick’s role in Amy’s disappearance aims to invoke the sort of confusion and suspense we’ve felt in something like the first season of Homeland. For a while it does manage to keep you guessing, but the stylistic dichotomy of Nick and Amy’s perspectives telegraphs the midway revelations a little too early, causing the initial mystery drag as it approaches resolution. Luckily, when the dust does settle about halfway in and we understand what’s really going on, the film kicks into high gear and never lets up again as the plot continues to change and evolve from one status quo into another.
As the battle for public favour grows increasingly complex, it’s endlessly captivating watching the cast turn manipulation and empathy into fine-tuned weapons of war. Though it does take until the aforementioned reveal before you do, Gone Girl lets you see the frightening creativity of its ultimate antagonist in real time, adapting to situations and turning obstacles to their advantage. It’s refreshing that this is almost always communicated with the camera and not the script, with exposition rearing its ugly head only when it’s organic to a character’s gloating or accusations.
Though he wears a similar demeanour to a lot of Affleck’s roles, Nick Dunne provides the actor with one of his most fascinating performances. Despite my criticisms on the opening mystery, Affleck does keep you guessing for a while by rendering attributes of guilt and innocence with equal subtlety and effect. Dunne himself is acting for the public with the fear of being labelled a murderer constantly causing him to question the intensity of his performance. This would be a complex role for any actor to wrap their head around, but Affleck handles it with confidence.
Though Amy is a similarly problematic character, having grown up in the public eye and accustomed to a certain level of theatrics, she is armed with far more assurance as a performer. At face value that sounds like it would be a comparatively less challenging role, but despite the character’s unwavering certainty Pike is still able inject the thinnest sliver of fear and insecurity into Amy. It’s so incredibly faint that you’re never really certain that you saw it, which is what makes it so damn brilliant. Though, personally, Affleck’s more downplayed performance impressed the most, Rosamund Pike’s Amy Dunne borders on career defining and is easily the film’s biggest gun.
Despite the fact that his capacity for building tension, incredible application of sound (especially when working with Reznor and Ross) and signature slick shooting style are all in full force here, you’ll notice I haven’t spent that much time talking about David Fincher. Gone Girl is Fincher through and through, but unlike many other directors with such defined cinematic personalities, he never comes across as the star of his own show. Gone Girl doesn’t feel like it’s defined as “the next film from David Fincher,” but rather a film with one of the best directors around using all the tools at his disposal to honour the story he’s telling. Which is, honestly, the best complement I can think to give a director.
As with any thriller so centred on a mystery, it’s difficult to explain what makes Gone Girl such an engrossing experience without spoiling it. But when the ingredients are all this damn good you shouldn’t need all that much convincing. Gone Girl is cinematic, full of suspense and comes from a frighteningly relatable place. This is a film worth getting excited for; don’t let it pass you by.
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10