Movie a Day Blog had a horrible feeling about 10 minutes into David Fincher’s new film, GONE GIRL (2014).
The dialogue by screen adapter and original novelist Gillian Flynn sounded like warmed-over Ben Hecht-Charles Lederer banter from HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940), and I thought for once Fincher might have lost his way.
Nope, he’s too good for that. With GONE GIRL, he transforms a popular page-turner into a deeper meditation about identity, first and last impressions, and how easily we manipulate and are manipulated by those we love and fear.
Casting every role perfectly, Fincher tells the tale of modern sad-sack Ben Affleck and his conflicted marriage to the far-smarter Rosamund Pike, which ends up with Pike’s sudden disappearance ( obviously staged) and Affleck’s growing suitability to be the prime suspect in what is presumed to be her murder.
Using his usual painstakingly logical and rational model of storytelling, Fincher fills in many but not all of the relevant details, leaving enough issues unexplored to heighten the sense of unease and mystery. He is helped greatly by the dissonant score co-composed by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, who also worked with Fincher on SOCIAL NETWORK (2010) and GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011).
What Fincher plays with here, above all else, is the idea of the unreliable narrator. It isn’t well into GONE GIRL that we realize we have been watching (and believing) only a certain version of what happened between the couple prior to the beginning of the film, and other plausible scenarios exist, too.
Affleck, seeming dumb and shaggy at the outset, evinces the most genuine emotions in the story, conflicted and complex though they are. He’s ably abetted by Carry Coon, excellent as his character’s twin sister, who often has to articulate what Affleck is feeling, since he seems congenitally stunted in this regard.
Pike is the mystery at the heart of the mystery, and Fincher’s handling of the twists and turns of her character and the plot’s revelations is masterful.
It’s difficult to discuss most of GONE GIRL without setting off multiple plot spoilers, and while normally I don’t care if a comment inadvertently reveals a plot detail, much of the fun in watching a film like this derives from not knowing what’s coming next.
Flynn and Fincher tease us throughout much of GONE GIRL’S 149-minute running time, but honestly, this is the first long movie all year that I didn’t resent. I never checked my watch once, and the film had me totally engrossed once those first bumpy stretches of dialogue were in the rear-view mirror (I know Flynn had never written a screenplay before, but someone should have stepped in and fixed the opening).
Another aspect Fincher captures marvelously is the media overload that results from every disappearance of an attractive young white woman (anyone else can disappear anonymously, for all the cable networks care). Missi Pyle, a UNCSA drama school alum who is a sharp screen comedienne, does the best Nancy Grace reinvention, and she is a consistent character throughout the story, glaring at us from under one severe hairdo after another.
There is never not a crowd outside Affleck’s suburban house, which feels by the end of the movie like a city under siege. Every gesture and tic are analyzed and judged, much more so by other characters in the film than by Fincher.
He’s content to guide this carefully crafted screen mystery down the river of high expectations, and not only survive but triumph by the end. There are numerous plot holes that vigorous discussion will no doubt reveal, and some aspects don’t make much sense when subjected to careful hindsight. But while you’re on the river, it really doesn’t matter. It’s all about the ride.