Things getting lost or just not being there is a theme in David Fincher movies. There’s Ripley’s hair in Alien 3, Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in Se7en and Brad Pitt’s entire character in Fight Club. Then slightly more tenuously you’ve got the evidence needed to convict the killer in Zodiac, any certainty over Kristen Stewart’s gender in Panic Room, Zuckerberg’s modesty in The Social Network and the audience for Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The thing that is missing from this film is any sense of restraint and real originality. I liked Gone Girl but with reservations.
This is certainly Fincher’s weakest film but this is relative. In my opinion he is one of the best directors working in America today (possibly second only to Nolan) and this is way better than most schlocky thrillers, but that’s what Gone Girl is; a schlocky thriller. It is right up there with those over blown late 80s/early 90s classics Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. That’s the kind of thing we are looking at. It may come from a book but this is no great literary adaptation. The English Patient it ain’t.
Rosamund Pike is really good as the title character, appearing in flashbacks. It is good to see her step out the shadow of Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, James Bond and Elizabeth Bennet and I am sure a varied and celebrated film career now awaits. Ben Affleck is good in the role of husband Nick but he doesn’t leave his mark on the film as indelibly as his co-star. Still, that’s okay, he doesn’t need the leg up, he’s got Batman in the works.
There are others in the cast that shine too. Carrie Coon is great as Nick’s sister Margo and Scoot McNairy adds memorable support once again (following Argo, Frank, The Rover and 12 Years a Slave) despite only being in one scene as an ex-boyfriend. Neil Patrick Harris is an interesting choice for this film, if you know any of his other roles it is odd to see him playing it straight but actually he dances a fine line between benevolent and creepy.
I also enjoyed the performance of Kim Dickens as Detective Boney. Hers is the character that feels the most familiarly Fincherish. Her desire for justice, and her resigned frustration in being thwarted in this, harks back to the central trio in Fincher’s best film, Zodiac, as well as the two cops in Se7en and Andrew Garfield in The Social Network. Boney is an island of calm amidst the sometimes OTT action.
It isn’t that the director’s films have not dealt with outlandish plots before, just look at Fight Club, but Gone Girl seems sillier than what we have come to expect from him. It is like Scorsese suddenly directing a kid’s movie, Woody Allen voicing a cartoon character or Daniel Day Lewis turning up in a musical. Sure, Fincher might be having fun but I can’t help but thinking that this screenplay was a little below him.
Of course it is possible to take airport novels and turn them into high art. Hitchcock managed it with Psycho as did Jonathan Demme with Silence of the Lambs. I expect this is what Fincher was hoping to do here but I don’t think he succeeded. I suspect that part of what attracted this director to this project was the statements that could be made about the media and the ability they have to create heroes and villains in the public eye. This aspect is well handled and does lift the film above other slasher flicks but this thread, like all others, does not linger in the mind once everything steps up a gear.
The Ripley Factor:
This movie has been accused of misogyny and while I don’t think I agree with that I can see the argument. Certainly many of the women in the film are stereotypes. The detective may be the only exception to this and even she is subject to male hierarchy.
If you run down the criteria I used to assess the ‘Ripley Factor’ Gone Girl gets an uneven score. It clears the first hurdle as the women in the film are not here only to define or motivate men and there is no tokenism but they are objectified in a way the males are not. Quite aside of the unnecessary sight of a twenty something pair of breasts, the camera adores its leading lady and affords her attention that it just doesn’t give Ben.
Is this one for the kids?
No. Gone Girl is rated 18 and that is not a certificate is it easy to get these days. There is nudity, there is violence and there is swearing and it is all extreme. If the sight of blood makes you uneasy you may want to stick with the book.