David Fincher has reached the level of skill and recognition where every new film he makes feels like it should be a profound piece of art. Whether it’s an examination of obsession and humanity depravity like Seven or Zodiac, a behind-the-scenes tale of The Social Network‘s redefinition of relationships, or the social satire and generational battle cry of Fight Club, Fincher audiences feel his work should be above mere entertainment. This expectation can both benefit and harm, as evidenced by his very well made but otherwise insubstantial remake of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. While the twisted story of Gone Girl does make some effective stabs at meaning, it’s most enjoyed when looked at for what it is, a story.
While I haven’t read the book and know nearly nothing about it, Gone Girl feels perfect for Fincher. It’s immediately clear that something is wrong with this picture, character interactions are exaggerated and a tinge of unreality punctuates every element of the opening period, even before the first major event occurs. Once again Fincher relies on a score by Atticus Ross and Trent Renzor and the role their music plays in adding to intensity and mood, especially enhancing the skewed feeling of the opening, can’t be stressed enough.
Remarkably, the film never seldom depends on tricks or gimmick shots to evoke emotion, focusing instead on steady camerawork, exact framing, and precise lighting to bring just the right amount of disturbance. In the same way that certain films may feel like a Coen Brothers, Gondry, or Tarantino kind of movie, if Gone Girl had been filmed by anyone else in a similar fashion, it would have still been a Fincher movie. It’s truly to the story’s benefit that he did.
While not entirely unpredictable, Gone Girl is the rare case where a mainstream American film doesn’t easily choreograph its every development from the start. The trailers, which thankfully only reveal enough that we know there is more to come, frame the movie as something quite different than what it is. Even for those of us who may piece the mystery together beforehand, it’s nice to see a film that doesn’t coast on plot twists alone as many of the crime-thriller genre do. At least not until much later, when the meticulous pace leaps ahead as holes begin to form in the narrative, giving less time to notice the holes emerging in its tightly wound package.
For those who still crave some level of meaning (as I often do) there is quite a bit of it to be found in Gone Girl as both statement and satire, including one exchange which is almost guaranteed to be taken out of context and applied far broader than it should (further detail would be a huge spoiler). The most obvious message is a criticism of 24-hour news cycles, rush-to-judgment law shows, and the idea of celebrity criminals or suspects. Everything from people lining up to take pictures in front of Nick’s bar to the lawyer famous for representing the guilty-by-public-opinion rings sadly true to anyone familiar with Nancy Grace-style “justice.” The way the town comes out in full force to find the beautiful and wealthy blonde woman can’t help but make the audience wonder if the same would be done for anyone to who doesn’t match that description.
Further, Nick and Amy’s marriage parallels many of its real life modern counterparts in how its fantasy falls apart. Again, saying more could potentially ruin the film, but the way the two interact with each other serves very nicely as an exaggerated version of real life marital problems. Affleck proves yet again that he doesn’t deserve the lingering criticism from his early success and Bennifer years. He’s very strong in a part that I’m sure was in no way informed by all the hate he receives from people who don’t know him. Kim Dickens continues her trend of strong supporting performances, Neil Patrick Harris is suitably distant and obsessive, and Tyler Perry is watchable for perhaps the first time ever (Emily Ratajkowski makes an impressive appearance, in a different way).
Yet for a film that some anti-feminists will definitely use to justify their views, it’s three women who truly steal the show. Without going into too much detail, Carrie Coon offers both counterpoint and compliment, Missi Pyle plays her Nancy Grace stand-in with a vacuous righteousness that makes you want to punch her in the face (read about other celebs you want to punch in the face here), and Rosamund Pike is perfect. While Pyle adds so much to the hyper-real quality of the world, without Coon and Pike, the movie would suffer tremendously. Their exchanges with Affleck are wonderful in establishing character through well-written dialogue, even if much of the early banter between the will-be spouses comes off as indecipherable jibber-jabber.
For as well-crafted as it is, Gone Girl is by no means perfect. It’s impossible for any journey to maintain momentum when the road turns so widely. After a few twists the audience can’t help but wonder are we there yet. The film uses every bit of its 149-minute runtime, and then some. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a dark, tense, extraordinarily crafted piece of filmmaking which hints nicely at the art beneath its entertainment. Exactly the kind of thing we should expect from David Fincher.