Gone Girl is a dissection of marriage from the man who gave us Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in a box; that’s probably the best way to sum up David Fincher’s new film. From the outset you know this is no straightforward mystery, as Fincher opens the film with a close up of Rosamund Pike’s head, Ben Affleck, in voiceover, asking the questions that go through every husband’s mind; “What are you thinking?” “What have we done to each other?” We’re shown the streets and homes of wealthy America - huge homes, small minds – before Affleck’s Nick Dunne arrives at the bar he owns, the small talk with his sister (Carrie Coon) revealing cracks in his marriage. We cut to the crime scene, which sums up the film as a whole; what appears clear cut and straightforward is, in truth, far from it. A coffee table is smashed, but there is no sign of blood, a struggle, or Nick’s wife.
Adapted from the bestselling book by Gillian Flynn (Flynn also wrote the screenplay), Gone Girl is a smart, exceptionally complex two-and-a-half hours, putting other big name thrillers to shame with just how much subtext Fincher wants you to think about: how the media tries to package speculation as fact; a person’s desire to be loved, and the despair and desperation someone could resort to so that they feel loved; the mask we wear when we walk out our front door, compared to our real face when we’re in the privacy of our home. These are just a small number of the many subjects that Gone Girl explores. This is a film that demands more than one viewing.
Fincher has always managed to coax career best performances out of his cast, and his latest is no exception. Anyone who looks at Ben Affleck and still thinks of Armageddon or Pearl Harbor will be stunned by his portrayal of Nick Dunne. There are two sides to Nick, the innocent man searching for his wife, naively stumbling through the minefield that is the media, and the weary husband who, once or twice, has considered killing his wife. Played by the wrong actor, you could end up hating every minute Nick is onscreen, but Affleck makes him constantly intriguing. At times, Nick is a morally loathsome man, but Affleck holds the film together, makes you stick with him as you try working out what the consequences of his actions will be.
Rosamund Pike also skilfully portrays the two sides of her character, Amy Dunne. When we’re first introduced to Amy, she’s this beautiful tomboy who enjoys being rebellious at formal, black tie affairs. Yet you know there’s something not quite right about Amy from her dialogue, giving a flawless smile, then saying something that destroys that perfect woman image, hinting at a sinister, hidden side to her personality.
Neil Patrick Harris makes a brave move, drawing a line through how fans see him, having played Barney in How I Met Your Mother for nearly a decade. As Desi Collings, Harris gives a credible portrayal of a man who still clings to the idea that his first true love will come back to him. Despite the wealth and the heated bathroom flooring, Desi is a pathetic, peculiar man in his longing for Amy. Harris is not on screen as much as other actors in Gone Girl, but he is one of the many things you will remember about the film.
Carrie Coon is excellent as Nick’s quick-tempered sister, Margo, who is both incensed by her brother’s behaviour during the police investigation, but always stands by him, looking after him. Tyler Perry brings some light relief as defence lawyer to the rich and guilty, Tanner Bolt; smiling and laughing when it’s least appropriate. Perry’s scenes could have jarred with the rest of the film, yet the performance he gives is understated rather than scene stealing over-the-top.
The obsessive Fincher fans will watch Gone Girl and probably criticise it as being his weakest film, visually. This is far from true. While there’s none of the tearing up the rulebook that you saw in Se7en or Fight Club, Fincher does something far more subtle. With every frame, Fincher recreates the glossy homes and lifestyles you read about in the weekly magazines – perfect hair, not a spec or mark on anyone’s clothes – but films in largely muted colours (even sunny days look pale), giving this cold, detached feel to the visuals. Occasionally Fincher pulls something out of the bag to make you stop for a second and marvel at what you are watching. Nick and Amy’s first kiss beside a backstreet bakery, sugar floating in the air like snow, is a beautiful moment. In contrast, Gone Girl also features this year’s most violent and nauseous murder scene (you sit through the film wondering why it’s an 18 certificate… Then you find out!), though, thanks to the lighting and some fast-paced fade ins/outs, it’s spectacular to watch.
The only complaint you could throw at Gone Girl is the ending. For a two-and-a-half-hour film, Fincher keeps up the pace for a good two hours before things suddenly start to flag. The last half-hour feels like it’s winding down, so much so, you end up wondering why the credits haven’t started rolling? I was waiting for one last twist, a sting in the tail, but this doesn’t happen. How Nick Dunne ends up in the film’s finale is bleak and unsettling, but would have had more impact if the film came to a head, stopping at the right moment instead of trailing off.
Gone Girl is, for most of its running time, a tense thriller with one twist after another, after another. Not your usual, straightforward twists, but the sort of mess-with-your-head moments where you have to respect Fincher for putting that up on the screen. Fincher’s latest isn’t quite up there with The Game, Se7en, or Fight Club, but there’s not much in it; Gone Girl is his best work for a long while, and one of the best films of 2014.
4 out of 5