Gone Girl is another cynical, visually compelling and consistently engaging mystery from David Fincher, who has charted this pulpy territory before in Se7en, Zodiac and most recently The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Author Gillian Flynn’s dark, winding story of a man accused of murdering his wife after she goes missing is clearly right in the notoriously meticulous director’s wheelhouse. And sure enough, the resulting adaptation feels very much like a Fincher film. It’s gleefully sadistic, narratively twisty (or rather twisted) and brimming with sly commentary on the dark side of human relationships. Gone Girl doesn’t push Fincher’s career in any sort of new direction, but that’s no problem; he’s still at the top of his game and the best at what he does.
The film’s screenplay was penned by Flynn herself, making for a fairly faithful adaptation but one that doesn’t immediately fit comfortably with Fincher’s traditionally cold tone. Flynn’s joke-spewing characters initially clash uncomfortably with the dark, dour setting and mood Fincher introduces in yet another evocative opening. Fincher has dealt with this kind of comedic dialogue before with The Social Network, but the characters’ witty responses to everything seemed at least a bit more organic there. Luckily, as Gone Girl‘s mystery comes into focus and the darker and more emotional elements come into play, the film rebounds and then balances its humor and its drama quite successfully.
The story is pulpy and perhaps a bit trashy, though Fincher uses more restraint than he did on his much sleazier The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo adaptation. And on the subject of Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl has a similar problem in that neither movie seems to know how or when to end. Both of them feel like they should be over about half an hour before they actually are. With the former, Fincher had a lot of loose ends that he had to tie up, but with Gone Girl it seems to drag aimlessly until its over. The point where I think the film should have ended would have been insane and abrupt, sure, but I’d take abrupt over drawn-out in this case.
For a little while, Gone Girl proceeds like a conventional crime procedural, albeit an incredibly good-looking and well-crafted one. But then things get interesting. Even if you haven’t read the novel, you’ve probably heard that there’s a twist, and boy is there. It happens surprisingly early and not a moment too soon, taking the movie in an unexpected direction. Also setting Gone Girl apart form the pack is its focus on, or perhaps its indictment of, the institution of marriage. At the very least, its a pretty ingenious, hyperbolized look at the things married people decide to show or hide both from each other and from the general public. Marriage, Flynn and Fincher seem to say, is all about deception and mystery. What better way to depict that than through a deceptive mystery film?
Keeping everything grounded is Ben Affleck as a man who, intriguingly, is more distraught by the effects of his wife’s disappearance than by his wife’s actual disappearance. He plays the part with an everyman’s aloofness that forces you to sympathize with him, even when it becomes clear he’s not nearly the best of guys. You’re always fairly sure he didn’t kill his wife, but the film knows exactly how and when to induce pangs of “what if?” within the audience.
While Affleck was perhaps the best possible casting choice for the part, the main attraction of the film is Rosamund Pike as his wife (who we see through various flashbacks where she muses on their relationship and eventual marriage). Her depiction of an independent-soul-turned-housewife, with all of the inherent anxieties that come with it, is multi-layered and feels wholly unique. I was almost completely unfamiliar with Pike apart from her role in last year’s The World’s End, and so the surprise of such a deep performance made it seem all the more brilliant.
But Pike isn’t even the biggest surprise performance of the movie. Tyler Perry, of all people, is pretty amazing as a renowned defense attorney. He’s funny, warm, and gives off the sense of security that the film never has and that you’d ultimately want from a famous lawyer fighting on your behalf. He becomes a show-stealer out of nowhere and this could represent a major shift in his career if he so desires to move in that direction.
The other stunt casting choice is much less successful, and that is Neil Patrick Harris as a former lover of Rosamund Pike who becomes a major focus late in the film. Instead of playing a creepy rich dude like he’s supposed to, he plays an overdone satire of a creepy rich dude. It’s forced and goofy and weirdly similar to his performance in A Million Ways to Die in the West (and that is probably the biggest insult I could muster).
Surrounding these performances is a treasure trove of audiovisual quality; there likely won’t be a slicker film this year. Fincher reunites with his usual cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth for another round of beautiful cinematography and Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross are also back for their third collaboration, with yet another deliriously strange and greatly effective score.
Fincher knows at this point that he has crafted a winning team and a winning formula over the years, and I’m more than happy to see him stick to it. Gone Girl is the kind of super focused, painstakingly crafted film that continues to remind us that he’s one of the most consistent mainstream filmmakers around.
Score: 4 out of 5