David Fincher is one of those few directors whose name demands immediate attention. He’s someone who, since the beginning of his career, was behind many perfectly crafted films which have stood the test of time. And while it’s only been recently that his films have been garnering major awards attention, any lover of cinema has always been able to appreciate his skill as a director (aside from Alien3, which even he disowned). So, there is no surprise that there a lot of hype and excitement for his latest project Gone Girl. It’s based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn, who is also the screenwriter for the film.
Gone Girl begins with Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) who comes home to find his wife, Amy Elliott-Dunne (Rosamund Pike), missing with clear signs of struggle within the house. The police get involved, as well as the townspeople and ultimately the media. As the investigation continues, reveals are made and innocence is questioned. Things are not quite as they seemed.
To cut right to the chase, Gone Girl is without a doubt one of the best films of the year. Every aspect of the film is crafted to utter perfection by a cast and crew of very talented people. Starting with David Fincher, his direction manages to keep on improving with every film. Gone Girl especially gives him many opportunities to indulge in some older, pulpy stylization as well as his newer, more restrained and subtle filmmaking techniques. It helps that he is given phenomenal material to work with in Gillian Flynn’s screenplay (more on that later). Each shot is impeccably composed, with careful attention to detail and characters, with major credit to Fincher’s regular cinematographer, Jeff Cronenweth. And even though the film ultimately has that same look as Fincher’s last several movies (underlit, soft colors, sharp digital focus, etc.), Gone Girl utilizes this look the best out of his recent projects. While, this certainly isn’t anything new for a David Fincher film, as practically all of his films can be considered “well made,” his prowess behind the camera was really able to bring the story and characters to life in a very consistently compelling and thoughtful manner. Any lesser director would not have made this as cinematic as Fincher presents the material.
Speaking of material, Gillian Flynn’s script is absolutely brilliant. While the previews make it seem like a straight forward drama about a missing persons case, the film is actually more of a darkly comedic (and I mean pitch black, borderline misanthropic) satire that deals with many elements that surround cases like these. Most of these elements are exaggerated, slightly so, but still exaggerated, and the film has a very sharp wit and satirical bite to its approach with these elements, like the media for example. At points, it almost feels like the filmmakers were channeling Paul Verhoeven’s style in how he handled dark and unapologetically bullheaded approach to cinematic social commentary, though Gone Girl never goes quite as over-the-top as Verhoeven’s work. There are even some elements you would find in a Hitchcock film or a sleazy exploitation film. Flynn also manages to use typical storytelling devices such as flashbacks and narration in a very clever way which manages to smartly incorporate the flow of the story with how the audience will react and think about certain characters and their relationships and motivations through different timelines and perspectives. It’s very manipulative, but in an oddly satisfying way that makes the story that much more immersive, which is strengthened even more so through Fincher’s eye for detail. As I briefly mentioned before, the film manages to throw in a lot of humor, which is usually subtle or very dark, but always rooted in character. I wouldn’t necessarily classify this as a comedy, in broad terms at least, but given the somewhat satirical and exaggerated nature of the film, this is definitely one film that could be easily be put in the same category as Fincher’s Fight Club. In fact, tonally, this film is almost a spiritual successor to Fight Club. Except while Fight Club dealt with masculinity, consumer culture, identity, and various other themes, Gone Girl deals with marriage, love, manipulation, representation of crime in media, and the dynamics between men and women in modern America. Flynn is able to balance all these themes by having them naturally woven within the story, which is starts as a very familiar set up that most people will recognize and connect with immediately (even in my town, we’re currently dealing with the disappearance of Hannah Graham).
Something that is very common in Fincher’s films is the way he’s able to get the best out of his actors, and Gone Girl is no exception. It’s the kind of story where everybody needs to be at the top of their game to make it work, especially the two main characters, and if one of them doesn’t work, the movie will fall apart. Ben Affleck is perfectly cast as Nick Dunne, clearly using his experience with the media in the past to ground his performance into something that makes the results feel painfully real. He plays it more subdued and reserved than most of the other actors, but it’s appropriately so, since Nick is a man who is out of his comfort zone since frame one, and he is by no means the brightest crayon in the box. Carrie Coon plays Nick’s twin sister, Margo. She is probably the biggest highlight in terms of supporting characters. She plays it cool, she’s quick-witted, smart and she is able to create this very believable relationship with her brother, as she has great chemistry with Affleck. Neil Patrick-Harris plays against type in this film, and while his appearance in the film might throw some people off at first, he does a very good job at sinking his teeth in a very odd character. By now you’ve probably heard the joke a million times that the movie is so good that even Tyler Perry is good in it. And in all honesty, it’s true. Within minutes of him showing up, I fully bought him as Tanner Bolt, the slick and smart celebrity lawyer and “patron saint of wife killers.” Even the minor roles were very well handled. Such as Missi Pyle’s portrayal of Ellen Abbott, the gleefully scathing, and not-so-subtle, Nancy Grace stand-in, or even Kim Dickens’ turn as Detective Rhonda Boney, the lead investigator of Amy’s disappearance. However, the one that really comes out on top is Rosamund Pike’s brilliant, show-stopping performance as Amy. Not only is it the best performance in the film, it’s one of the best performances of the year. She goes through a wide range of emotions, each very layered and meticulous. She’s been good before in other films, but never this good, and there’s a big chance we’ll be seeing even more of her in high profile films for years to come.
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross return for a third time in a row to score a Fincher film, and while it may not feel as new and fresh as their work on The Social Network, the Gone Girl score might actually be their best. I personally noticed some influence from Angelo Badalamenti, especially from his work in David Lynch’s projects; some tracks felt right out of Twin Peaks. It’s a score that’s appropriately haunting, intense, somber and creepy. Another aspect of the film that deserves praise is the editing, which is always expertly handled in Fincher’s films, usually by the duo Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall. This time Angus Wall is busy in pre-production with his directorial debut Echo, so the editing duties are left squarely on Kirk Baxter for Gone Girl, and he delivers wonderfully. The 149 minute ride is impeccably paced and each scene feels necessary in terms of story, character and theme, without a single boring or dragging moment. I would also like to give a shout out to the marketing department, which did a really good job at hiding the crazier moments of the film from the trailers. Looking back, nothing from the last 45 minutes or so appeared in any of the promotional materials.
If the way I talked about some of the characters and plot details seemed vague, it’s on purpose because this is one of those films that are best experienced knowing nothing going into it. As a result is gets hard to really do an in-depth review since a lot of the aspects that make the film so clever and excellent are through some of its twists and turns. Where most films use all their energy to build up to a “gotcha moment” and leave it at that, Gone Girl uses its twists to further delve into character and explore its many themes into greater detail. I will say as a warning that if you’re expecting the film to stay completely grounded and realistic for the entire runtime, you might be slightly put-off by the last half hour. Admittedly, it does go into more absurd territory as the film goes on, but it manages to stay consistent tonally because of the satirical nature of the script. So, even though some may not get that at first, it does get as crazy as it does for a reason. So, for the sake of keeping this review spoiler-free, I won’t be going into those details, as I think it’s best to see the film for yourself and explore what it has to offer.
I am confident in my opinion that Gone Girl is a perfect film. It’s one of those rare films where everything from pre to post-production manages to fall perfectly into place creating a flawless work of art that is even rarer in mainstream Hollywood. David Fincher has another masterpiece in his filmography that can stand side-by-side with Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac and The Social Network. Gillian Flynn delivers a masterfully written screenplay, and it’s not gonna surprise me if she gets an Oscar nomination and a ton of offers. Rosamund Pike delivers one of the standout performances of the year with one of the most memorable and interesting characters I’ve seen in a while. Gone Girl is a dark, twisted and smart thriller and while it does contain elements that are trashy, exploitative or just plain mean-spirited, it is thanks to the talent behind and in front of the camera that managed to craft the film as a perfectly constructed work of dark, but unabashedly entertaining satire. It manages to do all that while also being a brilliant exercise in audience manipulation and one of the most visceral and purely cinematic experiences of 2014 so far. Any movie that provokes discussion after viewing is worth checking out, and Gone Girl is going to be one that no one is going to forget anytime soon. Check it out while you can, since you’re probably gonna hear the name plenty of times come awards season.
Side Note: Given how prolific David Fincher’s career has been, it’s only natural to pointlessly rank his films to my personal preference. As far as my least favorite goes, I would say The Game would be at the bottom (I’m not gonna even bother including Alien3). The Game is not bad, but the ending needed reworking. Next would be Panic Room, a fairly underrated home invasion thriller, followed by Se7en, which I believe deserves the praise it gets, but personally I’d rank it around the middle. After that I would put The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (yeah, yeah, I ranked Benjamin Button over Se7en, whatever, I’m just a sucker for these kinds of stories). After that I would place The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I think is slightly better than the original Swedish film, and I would love to see the sequels at some point. The rest of his films, The Social Network, Zodiac and Fight Club are among my all-time favorites. As far as personal favorite is concerned, it’s probably Fight Club, a little clichéd, I know, but I also think the cult fandom the film has received as a “guy movie” has actually held the film back because the film is infinitely smarter and more thought provoking than any “guy movie” could ever be. Zodiac, as far as I’m concerned, is not only Fincher’s best film, but one of the best films ever made. It’s almost poetic that a director who obsesses over details has created a film that is all about obsession. As far as Gone Girl goes, I’d rank it pretty high. It’s a film I’ll have to watch a few more times before I can really think of where to rank it. Check these movies out if you haven’t already.