Gone Girl – David Fincher twists his way into our hearts. (Film Review)
This review doesn’t actually contain spoilers! (amazing)
David Fincher is no stranger to bringing a beloved pop/pulp novel to the screen while it is only just sliding off the top of the best seller lists, so there is a disarming confidence at play before we even get to the film, that it will be good, faithful to the novel (despite adverbait suggestions that the much loathed ending has changed) and able to satisfy both readership fans and newbies alike. This is a tougher ask than The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, because the film is a very different creature if you have read the book, the category I fall into. It’s a book famous for its twists, and there are many, so Fincher had his job cut out for him when pinning down the reasons for making the film in the first place, which are not entirely answered – which turns out to be the greatest problem with Gone Girl, even if shying away from making a statement has become something that we who love Fincher automatically know to associate with all his films. In my previous Fincher reviews, I’ve called this struggle the adman versus the creative – perhaps auteur is a better word there. The very choice of Gone Girl as a subject piece for Fincher tells us he has placed the auteur on the back-burner and he’s out to make one of those Fincher films that seems to be saying something meaningful at its surface, but in reality is doing nothing more than adhere to a zeitgeist. He’s done this with his last three films, including Gone Girl, a thing we critics fumblingly call “style over substance” but is more the thinking adman’s ability to zero in on what we want to watch on our big screens (and subsequently small ones – both of which are comfy Fincher territory) even if its tricky to know exactly what it is that he is selling.
If a music video is the perfect post modern combination of both the advertisement and the product, then Gone Girl might fall into that category, being nothing more than a process of convincing you the film is worth your time, attention and above all money. There is none of the camera turning Fincher achieved in his masterpiece Zodiac, no statement about “society” or “humanity” or even (hugely disappointingly for this Fincher fan) “marriage” which the novel is pregnant with and never properly gives birth to. In this way, the source material more like the Zodiac books than The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo which is a fully realised airport novel with its message sledgehammered throughout, and exhibits the same frustrations that plague Se7en – that the story is begging to make a statement Fincher is too timid to evoke. Gillian Flynn touched on many exciting subjects, only going deeper into a couple of them, and a Fincher film that chose to turn his clever cameras eye on marriage, interspersed with Flynn’s (very poorly made) commentary about the media provided similar fertile ground to Graysmith’s Zodiac, a serial killer story Fincher brilliantly turned into a film about our obsession with serial killers and how that plays itself out in the media. But Fincher does none of this, instead opting for a very beautiful, very well performed retelling of the story in toto (with only very few small changes) which does beg the question, why make the film, especially while we’re all still talking about the novel and it is so fresh for so many of us? It gives the film the hovering problem of that ghost written novel that comes out after the successful film that exists solely for the purpose of extracting more cash from fans. An understandable goal, but surely a little beneath a film maker like Fincher?
However, given Fincher’s talent for societal-pulse-finger-placement, Gone Girl has more to say about the pointlessness of contemporary film making than any of Fincher’s previous works (except perhaps for The Social Network) and the passion we have for watching meticulously made, meaningless entertainment. We talk of the sophistication of the contemporary viewer, but that reaches only so far as to impact on disembodied pieces of the entertainment product perfected in spite of the meaningless of the whole. Gone Girl is competing with television here, and perhaps the YouTube-esque phenomenon of on-line video, in the same way Panic Room did, but was too clunky (and perhaps we were a little too discerning back then) and didn’t have the script Flynn has come up with here. Fincher is combining a great script (very important to him), impeccable performances, a ripping yarn, and his flair for emotive design to create a showcase of talent in which the parts are greater than the sum of the whole. If he’s selling the talent of his team – there’s suddenly a point to Gone Girl. In Gone Girl the viewer, who is now making their own films, music and novels at home, is watching for craft as much as they are switching off to enjoy a story. The fact that over six million of the viewers will have read the book hardly matters in that case, and they are certainly not interested in having a director presume to point the camera back at them and make insightful statements about “Marriage” or “The Media” – conclusions they will draw on their own based on their own insights.
All of this is speculation, but one thing remains sure, whatever is behind the making of Gone Girl, it doesn’t produce anywhere near the passionate insight and brilliant film making of Zodiac, but rather places Gone Girl in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo category. Films, for some reason, are being dumbed down for this so-called savvy audience, and are starting to resemble long television programs. There is a great deal to enjoy in Gone Girl and I had as much fun with the film as I did with the book, but both toy with my hopes by teasing me into a deeper connection and then withdrawing like a high school crush too immature to develop into substance. The acting is great – Ben Affleck is brilliantly cast as the smarmy unlikable Nick (that’s how I’ve always seen Affleck) and Rosamund Pike is as good as everyone says as the enormously difficult to portray Amy. The support cast is almost all good, with Kim Dickens a great Rhonda Boney, Carrie Coon a great Margo Dunne, Neil Patrick Harris a perfect Desi and Tyler Perry (!) much better as Tanner Bolt than my groan at first realisation deserved. The only let down for me were David Clennon and Lisa Banes as the Elliots, whose performance as Amy’s parents was too whitewashed to carry the punch of the twist and the irony of the Amazing Amy stories, which are so well realised in the book. I also thought the gratuitous nudity of Emily Ratajkowski as Andie was pointless and undermined the strength of Amy’s anti-feminist narrative. It’s a terrible waste of an important plot development, Ratajkowski chosen for her willingness to be an object and her performance in the Thicke commercial/product, which is such a boring cliché, particularly because she can’t act and Fincher doesn’t know what to do with her. But I guess she ensures the eighteen to twenty-three year old male audience, who must always be pandered to, even if they aren’t a lucrative market as they’ll be stealing the film on-line anyway.
Through all this, Gone Girl is high-end, beautifully crafted, mindless entertainment, which makes for a great night at the movies and well worth your $15 dollar ticket and $30 popcorn. Seeing as this yardstick is touted as the highest aspiration for all art forms these days, it’s like to nab all the Oscars as well. Definitely worth a viewing.