Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosmund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit
Director: David Fincher
Running Time: 2 hours 25 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
Director David Fincher, that tinkerer of brooding mood and stylized meticulousness, whose given us the blood and black satire of Fight Club and the cynically hard-edged ode to male disenchantment that is The Social Network, has finally made his first full-fledged Lifetime movie. Based on Gillian Flynn's popular novel and written for the screen by Flynn, Gone Girl is glossy mainstream junk, the kind of disingenuous stab at "married life is hell" alarmism that seems at odds with Fincher's notoriously rigid directing style. To be fair, Fincher has dabbled in adaptation's before with 2012's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, a film that was suitably stylish and well-acted, but also at times, stilted and entirely unnecessary. Here, Fincher seems only partially interested in the subject matter's satirical potential, much less it's B-movie luridness, turning what should have been a wildly entertaining campiest into a misanthropic slog.
Truthfully, this kind of material; think shrill battle of the sexes meets a domestic horror show, invites a lavish cinematic brush. Fincher, though, is so interested in maintaing a sense of impending dread, aided by an ominous score from Trent Renzor and Atticus Ross, that he initially fools the audience into thinking there's more going on here than mere bargain-bin trash. Unfortunately, as the plot unspools at a leisurely pace, Fincher keeps tightening his grip, ratcheting up the ambiguity and misdirection while forgetting that he really should be making a Grand Guignol-style black comedy. Though there are comedic elements to the film, and even a knowingness to some of the performances, Fincher still feels uneasy about giving himself over fully to the story's inherent ridiculousness.
Gone Girl is set in a small Missouri town and centers on married couple Nick and Amy Dunne (Ben Affleck and Rosmund Pike, respectively), who have recently relocated from New York, fallen on hard financial times, and leased their large home while dwindling away their savings account. When one morning Amy goes missing, there's serious doubts about Nick's involvement as well as Amy's mental state. Certainly, this is no perfect marriage, and through flashbacks and voiceover narration (transcribed from Amy's diary entries), we begin to see glimmers of the full picture, though Fincher and Flynn tip their hands much too early by presenting Pike's line reading as if she was twirling a faux mustache. The arch tone of Amy's narration feels at home with the melodramatic source material, but Fincher doesn't feel like the best fit for it. His compositions and framing are stunningly precise as usual, but the film's overall dour tone, as well as it's outdated thematic models of feminism and male emasculation, pull the film into a downward spiral that it cannot recover from. This type of sordid whodunnit/psychosexual thriller would have benefited immensely by having someone like Brian DePalma at the helm; a fetishistic filmmaker who fully understands how to take elements of pulp, camp, and melodrama and blend them together into a stew of B-movie silliness. Put simply, DePalma would have made the film more nasty and fun.
Fincher, through the sheer force of his stylistic talents, along with a few solid performances, almost does save the film from it's own confused message concerning the modern horrors of married life, but it never transcends the mediocre source material. Perhaps there's no way to overcome a storyline filled with thoroughly unbelievable character motivations and the sledgehammer obviousness concerning it's satirical attack on celebrity culture and the vapidity of TV broadcasting. Though the film often angles toward farce, all of the straight-faced ponderousness prevents it from reaching the thrillingly ludicrous heights it should have, given how the story plays itself out.
On the acting front, it's unclear whether or not Affleck is good in the role or simply perfectly cast. Nick Dunne is a glib, underachieving middle-class bore, the kind of man who seems almost always disinterested with his life and his place in the world. Affleck doesn't do anything here outside his wheelhouse of glowering, smiling, shrugging, and occasional yelling, but he's at least believable in the role. Amy, on the other hand, is more "complicated", to coin a line directly from Nick's mouth to one of the investigating officers of her disappearance (played by a fine Kim Dickens). As portrayed by Pike in a shape-shifting performance both cunning, nasty, and self-aware, Amy is pretty much a writer's construction of a certain kind of women; more femme fatale than actual believable human being, more of a projection of stereotypical feminism than someone operating in the real world. Sure, there are psychotic individuals hiding behind facades of domesticity, but Flynn and Fincher go too far in stacking the deck against her character in a way that rob's the film of much of it's early sense of mystery. Nick, by contrast, isn't painted as a saintly figure, but as things become increasingly unhinged toward the absurd climax, there's no denying that the hyperbolic role-playing favors one over the other. Other characters pop up; one of Amy's ex-lovers (Doogie Howser himself, Neil Patrick Harris, exuding creepiness), and Nick's hot-shot lawyer (Madea himself, Tyler Perry, exuding Johnnie Cochran), who are more or less used as devices to propel the plot forward. Nick's sister Margo, meanwhile, is drawn into all of the hysterics, which includes dippity TV broadcasters making unfounded accusations. She's played by Carrie Coon in the film's most humane and empathetic performance. If there's a conduit for the audience's growing sense of confusion and disdain for humanity, it's Margo's voice of reason.
Gone Girl is an over-written, over-plotted enterprise given a sheen of respectability by Finher's fluid direction. He handles all of the misdirection, red herrings, and painful middle-class white people problems with considerable skill, but for what purpose? By the time the vaugely misogynistic climax comes draped in bloody hysterics, the film has completely come unglued in a way that suggests heightened soap opera, a kind of Fatal Attraction for the millennial age. If that was the intention, then Flynn's badly constructed screenplay, based on what one assumes is a badly constructed novel, doesn't allow the audience to truly enjoy it's absurdity. In the end, Gone Girl isn't attempting to dissect a troubled marriage; it's simply a confused take on gender-politics by way of a formulaic potboiler. If we are to take the film's central message seriously; that women must emasculate their man by becoming an utter psychopath in order to retake their identity, then Flynn's angle on the state of women's equality and her awkward satirizing of "chick lit culture", is altogether retroactive.