It’s difficult to write about a film constructed like this one without entering spoiler territory. Suffice to say that Gone Girl (Danish title: Kvinden er Forsvant), adapted by Gillian Flynn from her own novel, is not what you’re expecting. It’s less a whodunnit and more a ‘whodunwhat’.
Gentle Ben at his boring best
Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a man who, after a spell in New York, returns to his hometown to care for his dying mother, bury her and remain there, bringing his New Yorker wife (Pike) to live with him. One day he returns to find that she’s – you guessed it – gone. A massive police investigation follows and soon, thanks to his wife’s fame as the muse for her mother’s series of children’s books, her disappearance becomes national news. Soon, every detail of Nick’s life is spun under the media microscope and he’s not only fighting to find his wife, but to save his reputation.
We’re given his wife’s perspective via flashback and her creamily delivered voiceover – one that wouldn’t be out of place in a pulpy crime noir – functioning much like Kevin Spacey’s narration in American Beauty. Gradually we piece together how the couple met and trace the events leading up to her disappearance.
Affleck is perfectly cast as the middle-class, middle-American everyman who was forced to raise his game by an uptown, well-monied, high society New York girl. It’s probably unfair to label Affleck the most boring man in Hollywood, but really, he’s best suited to roles in which he’s required to be ordinary – Terence Malick’s To The Wonder is another example in which Affleck’s earthly, nigh-on invisibility paid dividends to the overall purpose of the film.
Fincher’s fine form continues
Director David Fincher has one of the most distinct signatures in mainstream cinema, and his softly-lit, subdued, gloomy spaces are consistent with previous work such as Se7en, Fight Club and Girl With a Dragon Tattoo.
Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor contribute an ethereal, driving score, marking their third collaboration with Fincher. Certain themes also chime with those prevalent in Fincher’s prior work: sceptism of modern living and our unhealthy dependance on mainstrean media. In short, this looks, sounds and feels very much like a Fincher film but, like many other elements, nothing is what it appears to be.
Distinctly lightweight overall
‘Hitchcockian’ is an overused adjective in film criticism but Gone Girl is a less serious film for Fincher, in the sense that a Hitchcock thriller can deal with the darkest of themes in the most playful and inventive of manners – and it becomes impossible to respond with anything but glee.
For all it’s genre trappings, Gone Girl is a posthumous study of inter-marital politics – with everything ramped up to eleven. Much of the drama, character and violence are hyper-realised to cartoon levels, making it easy to find yourself stifling a giggle when you might otherwise have been recoiling in horror.
At certain moments I was reminded of the pitch-black slapstick of Mary Harron’s American Psycho or the emotional detachment of Cronenberg’s Crash. The films share a similar surgical analysis of relationships and violence – both physical and psychological in nature.
It’s certainly not Fincher’s best, but Gone Girl is one of his most deceptively subversive and enjoyable films – once you’ve tuned into the frequency.
Dir: David Fincher; US thriller, 2014, 149 mins; Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens
Premiered October 23