Sunday, October 5, 2014

"Gone Girl"

 3.5 / 5 

If you've read Gone Girl the novel, you've already seen a lot of Gone Girl the movie.  The images David Fincher assembles in his film version often look exactly like the images you probably had in your head when you read the book.  It's uncanny sometimes, the way Fincher has made a dark and brooding movie (because he's Fincher) that is filled with moments of cinematic déjà vu.

Gillian Flynn's novel was a terrific mystery that -- not surprisingly, given Flynn's background as an entertainment writer -- often read like a screenplay treatment, and in fact she ultimately wrote the screenplay for the film, smartly tightening the story, bringing more of its misanthropic view of humanity into sharper focus.

That's a quality Fincher amplifies in the movie: There are no good guys.  Gone Girl takes a breathtakingly dim view of the world, a view amplified by the sheen and polish in which they live.  Their contempt for each other in spite of their privilege left me feeling ready for a nice long shower, the way I felt after seeing Barbet Schroeder's disturbing Reversal of Fortune

In Gone Girl, the upper-class pretension is replaced by a post-recession credit-card driven, suburban McMansion malaise.  Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), haven't been having a good time of things, especially since moving from Manhattan to the Missouri sticks, a fate Gone Girl regards as a sort of death sentence; there couldn't possibly anything good out in the middle of nowhere?

Just as their marriage is rockiest, Nick comes home to find his wife missing.  It looks like there has been a struggle.  The lead detective seems sympathetic enough, but she begins to suspect there might be more going on than Nick is revealing, and soon enough Nick's twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon) is learning some mighty suspicious stuff.

It's when the detective (Kim Dickens) finds an envelope helpfully marked "Clue One" that everything begins to unravel.

About midway through Gone Girl, there's a plot twist that shocked most readers of the book and that Fincher manages, despite this familiarity, to make mildly surprising, even for audiences already familiar with the story.  Obviously, I can't say what it is, and its prominence makes it impossible to describe any more of the film's story, since it launches the second half of this long (150-minute) movie.

Every frame of Gone Girl is executed with style and assurance.  As a friend said when the movie ended, "There's not a single thing I'd complain about."  And that may be both the highest praise and the most troubling aspect of the movie, because for all of its cool composure, there's something vital missing, an urgency and sense of malicious fun.

There's nothing wrong with Gone Girl, but it lacks the gallows humor of Reversal of Fortune, the supreme messiness of Fatal Attraction and the danger of Double Indemnity.  There are moments when it comes close to being an incisive commentary on the fascination with media coverage of crime -- for a time, it seems maybe Nick likes all the attention he's getting.

But Gone Girl doesn't play with those ideas; it focuses on presenting its story cleanly, efficiently, with just enough slight tweaks to the source material to keep fans of the novel surprised and guessing.  Affleck is eager and sympathetic -- maybe too much so; there aren't many moments where Nick becomes distasteful.  Pike takes her cool detachment to an extreme; it would be impossible, based on the cinematic evidence, to know what makes Amy do the things she does in the movie.  The best characters are the supporting ones, like Dickens' determined detective and Tyler Perry's smooth lawyer.

Maybe Gone Girl would simply have been too bleak if Affleck and Pike brought real passion to the roles; the misanthropic underpinnings -- no one is good in this movie -- would have been overwhelming.  As it is, Gone Girl is calculated not to enrage but to entertain, and that's something it does very, very well.

Viewed Oct. 5, 2014 -- ArcLight Hollywood


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