Be warned, I’m making no attempt to avoid spoilers on this one. If you don’t already know how the plot of this film pans out then please search out the other clean review, also on this website.
Okay here we go then, if you are all in the right room I’ll kick off.
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 and it has a Femme Fatale to rival them all.
I’m not sure if the true nature of Amy Dunne’s disappearance was supposed to be a twist, certainly the film did not hold any surprises for me, but the vanishing lady’s scheming is fun to watch. In fact I didn’t think the film gets really interesting until you see quite how nuts Amy is. There is more suspense in wondering whether the husband will be able to outwit her in the second half of the film than there is in supposing where she may have gone at the start.
Rosamund Pike is just brilliant as the title character. It is good to see her step out the shadow of Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, James Bond and Elizabeth Bennet and while this may always remain her greatest role, I am sure a varied and celebrated film career now awaits. Leaving aside the feminist issues for a minute (I’ll come back to them) there is joy in seeing this psychotic woman viciously manipulating those around her and without the conviction of Pike’s performance it simply wouldn’t have worked. The moment where she momentarily looks grief stricken, sitting on the bed covered in someone else’s blood, only to shake her head and gain her resolve is excellent. There is a great ambiguity to the moment as well. Was she actually overcome by what she’d done or was she just practicing her expression for the news cameras later?
What is also good about the story is that she is genuinely both aggressor and victim. Husband Nick is no innocent and while we never quite know the truth of previous events he has definitely not acted altruistically. Ben Affleck is good in the role but he doesn’t leave his mark on the film as indelibly as his co-star.
In fact I think there are others in the cast that shine more. 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 patsy Desi Collings too. 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 gullible benevolence and creepy threat. They way he tells Amy he won’t force her to have sex with him like that is in some way gentlemanly is pretty disturbing.
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.
It isn’t that the director’s films have not dealt with outlandish characters and plot developments 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 generic killer stories and turn them into high art. Hitchcock managed it with Psycho as did Jonathan Demme with Silence of the Lambs and Chan Wook Park with last year’s Stoker. I expect this is what Fincher was hoping to do here but I don’t think he succeeded.
The film that Gone Girl is most reminiscent of, and also inferior to, is John Dahl’s 1994 movie The Last Seduction. The key thing that Dahl did that Fincher hasn’t is make his scheming woman, in that case Linda Fiorentino, sympathetic. I see the artistic attraction of letting Amy Dunne get away with it at the end of Gone Girl but this isn’t a satisfying resolution. She is smart and calculating but she is also dangerous and totally nuts. Again with Silence of the Lambs and Stoker, I was really pleased to see the respective psychos, Anthony Hopkins and Mia Wasikowska, walking away at the end but Amy should be put away, not making a home and raising a child. The failing of the film is not in letting her be free though, it is in not making me want her to be.
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 amazing Amy decides she is coming home.
The Ripley Factor:
This is a really interesting film to discuss in terms of its gender politics. The 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 closed down by belittling men at the end. Amy herself presents a disturbing vision of womanhood that steps back to the psychoanalytical theories of the monstrous feminine popular twenty years ago.
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 to Ben. Rosamund Pike clearly has a no nudity clause in her contract and good for her but between her and any body doubles she may have there are plenty of shots of a naked or scantily clad woman’s curves and contours. It is possible that Fincher is trying to show that her body is part of her arsenal but it seems a shame that a film centring on an empowered woman should choose to undress her.
Clearly our Ms Dunne isn’t really believable as real person either. She doesn’t have any superpowers but nor does she seem to have any morals, at all, of any description, and at one point she actually considers destroying herself to punish a man. As strong representations of women go, it’s a mixed message. This is interesting for a film adapted by a female writer, Gillian Flynn, from her own book.
Is this one for the kids?
You’ve seen the film, you know the answer to this question. Gone Girl is rated 18 and that is not a certificate is it easy to get these days. There is the nudity, there is the violence and there is the swearing and it is all extreme. People who are uneasy with the sight of blood and the C word should perhaps stick with the book.