With the release of Gone Girl, I found myself somewhat torn. You see, I am an avowed fan of David Fincher but the feedback I had received from those who have read the novel on which the film is based has been somewhat mixed. However, having kept my expectations in check, I can report that Gone Girl is good; very good in fact. There is no doubt that Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name is a hugely popular read and I guess I found it hard to reconcile such a populist text with the dark, moody aesthetic for which Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, The Social Network) is so well regarded. However, clearly my concerns were unfounded as Flynn’s story is exactly the type of story that Fincher films so well; morally bereft – but far from simplistic – characters who engage in all manner of dastardly behaviour, seemingly oblivious to the impact their actions may have on anybody else.
The first hour or so plays out very much like a typical police procedural. In fact, there were several moments where I expected Stabler and Benson to arrive on the scene, engage in a little interview-room intimidation and wrap it all up in quick time. Alas, ultimately this is a little more complex than an episode of Law and Order, with a series of twists and turns that take the story in a direction that is as bat shit bonkers as it is surprising (although not to those who have read the book I guess) and utterly gripping. When Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home to find his wife Amy missing, it doesn’t take long before he is the prime suspect. Whilst he is steadfast in his declaration of innocence, his personality and behaviour make it easy for just about everyone – the media, neighbours, the in-laws – to believe that he may very well be responsible for whatever it is that has happened to Amy (Rosamund Pike). However, whilst Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) doesn’t necessarily find Nick an easy person to like, she is desperate for more conclusive evidence before she is convinced of anything.
Once we start to delve into the couple’s past – the early years of their marriage, their relocation from New York to Missouri, the somewhat strained relationship between Amy and her parents – and the events of the days leading up to Amy’s disappearance, things get decidedly more interesting. Other suspects emerge; the most notable of which is Desi Collings, a creepy ex-boyfriend played by Neil Patrick Harris, however none of these ever amount to much. Eventually we learn that the truth is far more complex, sophisticated and fucked-up than we could ever imagine. Once the truth is revealed and the events play out, audiences will no doubt be divided with regard to where their sympathies lie. In addition to being a crime thriller of the highest order, the film also takes an almighty swipe at both the influence of the media in constructing guilt or innocence – Missy Pyle’s television host Ellen Abbott may just be the most vile character of all – and the dangers in relying purely on circumstantial evidence in cases where so much is at stake.
Whilst Affleck is good as Nick, it is the women who steal the show here, with Pike utterly hypnotic as Amy, a spellbinding performance that makes it hard to hate her even when you know you should. In fact, the more despicable she became, the more I found myself attracted to her. Both Dickens and Pyle are fabulous, with Carrie Coon also terrific as Nick’s unwaveringly loyal sister Margo. Tyler Perry brings a touch of levity to proceedings as high profile lawyer Tanner Bolt, while David Clennon and Lisa Banes are the detestable parents who seem totally oblivious to their own shortcomings in their treatment of Amy. Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous) also features as a police officer who wants to see Nick fry, while Boyd Holbrook (sans his ridiculous accent from The Skeleton Twins, thank god) and Lola Kirke occupy small roles that ultimately prove significant in determining the fate of our protagonists. It is hard to say much more without giving too much away.
Fincher has a predilection for dark mysteries and in cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth he seems to have found the perfect conduit through which he can deliver his examinations of moral and emotional decay. In all its bleakness, the film still manages to somehow look beautiful and, with a suitably atmospheric music score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Gone Girl is a haunting story from which nobody emerges unscathed.