Does David Fincher’s latest suspense thriller match up well against previous efforts Seven, Fight Club and Panic Room?
Considering one of those films belongs on my list of all-time favourites, Fincher ranks quite highly as a director in my book. In fact it was perhaps his name alone that convinced me this film was worth paying for. This is because if the above titles have anything in common – well, two of them at least – it is that they were intelligently written, expertly executed thrillers which kept you on the edge of your seat and even threw you a few surprises if you were patient enough to wait for them. So when it came to Gone Girl, I was prepared to be patient in waiting for its secrets, but expectant to be entertained along the way.
Here we have another film adapted from a book I haven’t yet read. Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name made the NYT bestseller list when it was released back in June 2012, exploring themes related to unemployment, media portrayal and the trustworthiness (or lack thereof) of its narrators. Fincher’s film follows the same story outline, casting Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as the dysfunctional husband – Nick – and wife – Amy – around which it revolves.
By exploring their relationship while at the same time crafting a genre narrative in the vein of a typical American thriller, Gone Girl goes somewhat deeper than the average film. This is a story not only about heroes and villains, betrayal, murder and the occasional plot twist; it is one that realistically portrays the difficulties of a marital relationship as it is affected by outside influences such as the loss of a job or sickness of an extended family member.
But it doesn’t stop there. The film plays on our perception of what marriage is, along with other preconceptions that the audience may have beforehand – such as the violent husband or the distant, unloving wife – to create a greatly exaggerated scenario that then turns out to be subject to the whims of the two main characters. Neither of these two characters are particularly trustworthy or likable, though through clever direction you are goaded into forming certain opinions and feelings regarding both of them at different points of the story.
In many ways this is a film almost entirely about how things are portrayed to us, and how we portray ourselves to others. The film begins with Amy going missing on the couple’s anniversary, and Nick is immediately suspected of having something to do with her disappearance not only by the police, but also the audience, to whom he appears both distant and uncaring from the moment the camera opens on him in a bar as he despairingly complains about their relationship.
Extracts from Amy’s diary, which fill in some of the back story of their relationship and marriage, paint a picture of something that started well and in turn went downhill, mainly due to Nick’s erratic behavior; befitting of a man that perhaps could have lost it and killed his wife. Nick, meanwhile, smiles for the cameras when the media catches wind of the story, and poses for photographs as he attempts to ‘engage’ with anyone willing to help find her. All the while he comes across as someone who’d rather be doing other things – a man who has more important places to be than out searching for a wife who’s supposedly the love of his life.
The journey up to the film’s mid-point, where it begins to change direction as the veil starts to fall away, is as entertaining as it is intriguing. Affleck steps into one of his better roles with ease as the slightly sleazy husband Nick, filling me with hope for his upcoming performance as Batman. Although the character should be one of the most unlikable in the film after all the facts have been revealed, Affleck’s performance somehow makes him an endearing, almost sympathetic one. In no small part is this due to the sensationalized witch-hunt organized by the media in response to Amy’s disappearance, which we are able to see played out from a unique perspective as the audience.
Rosamund Pike, meanwhile, is equally impressive as Amy, whose character takes more than one dramatic turn during the course of the story, veering from vulnerable housewife to sociopathic man-eater. Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry also have entertaining parts in the movie, both stepping out of their usual comfort zones and into refreshing new roles here. Perry in particular plays the memorable part of Tanner Bolt, a larger than life defense attorney who specializes in defending ‘husbands accused of killing their wives’.
There’s no doubt though, that the main stars of this movie are Affleck, Pike and Fincher himself as the director, who presents us one of his best thematic films here with Gone Girl. This film certainly has its secrets, even should you approach it already knowing the story from having read the book. There are, after all, some memorable acting performances to look forward to, and you can rest assured that Fincher’s signature style of extreme character close-ups and occasional tongue in cheek comedy are present in good measure.
It perhaps borrows most of its plot tricks and themes from the novel it was adapted from, but this version of Gone Girl does everything it can to hold your rapt attention for 150 minutes, and is a resounding success at doing so.
9 / 10