How well do you know the person you share your life with? That’s the question David Fincher is asking in Gone Girl – his third literary adaptation in as many films – a dark, breathless and pernicious dissection of image and the dark side of relationships.
Those familiar with Gillian Flynn’s source novel will see most of major twists coming, which can make the first half of the film drag at certain points, but so compelling is the murder mystery that, from the moment Ben Affleck’s character returns to his perfect suburban home to find his wife gone, Fincher’s Gone Girl grips you tight and never lets you go.
For those unfamiliar with the book, the story hinges on Rosamund Pike’s Amy Dunne, who disappears on the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary, seemingly the victim of a violent kidnapping. While a media-spun maelstrom builds around her husband Nick (Affleck), raising the suspicions of the police, neighbours and his in-laws, the investigation is juxtaposed with flashbacks that expose the deep fissures in the Dunne’s sugary-sweet marriage.
It is easy to see what attracted Fincher to tackle Flynn’s novel as it shares some of the same DNA as his previous works. It has the dark humour of Fight Club, the intense procedural tone and twisted morality of Zodiac, and a disturbing bedroom encounter that wouldn’t look out of place in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (though one scene resembles something closer to Carrie).
It also sees Fincher making a second attempt to channel Alfred Hitchcock after the disappointing Panic Room. Aside from the tall, dark and charming man who is wrongly accused and the resourceful blonde leading lady, the nature of the film’s slow-burn ambiguity is very Hitchcockian.
Like Flynn’s book, the Gone Girl movie can be relentlessly punishing in its shocks and tension, but it is also startlingly insightful on the nature of relationships.
Without giving too much away, neither Nick nor Amy are trustworthy narrators and so our attention is drawn to how the characters create different versions of themselves to appease other people’s expectations. Maintaining such intricate and complex facades is of course exhausting and it is in the anticipation of the moment when the mask finally slips that makes Gone Girl so inextricably absorbing.
And it’s in the depiction of the media’s impatient gaze that we see Fincher’s darkly satirical edge shine through. Nick is demonized as the prime suspect in his wife’s disappearance essentially because of his awkwardness in front of camera – something which ratings-hungry news anchors like Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle) pick upon as an admission of guilt – forcing him to hire a hot-shot lawyer to revamp his public image.
Here Fincher is gently probing the rampant narcissism of the ‘Facebook generation’, where everyone from politicians to premier league footballers is expected to be groomed for camera and have an understanding of performance. That Amy’s possible murder is so quickly seized upon for its publicity value by the news, neighbours and even her parents is perhaps the most upsetting part of Flynn’s story.
Rosamund Pike is incredible as the enigmatic Amy, oozing poise and sophistication with her silky New Yorker drawl, while effortlessly flitting between petrified victim and twisted housewife, portraying both with a simple look or a subtle twitch of the mouth.
Affleck is also excellent as her set-upon husband, managing to keep the audience’s sympathies even after his flaws and betrayals have been brutally exposed to the public. In playing a man trapped in a mess partly of his own making, Affleck never falters in revealing the desperate, angry and misguided sides of a painfully human character.
The ending unfortunately dwindles as the Fincher becomes obsessed with answering questions that could have been left unresolved. For a film so subtle in its ambiguity, the final scenes are demonstrably heavy-handed in making a point we could have worked out on our own. Nevertheless, Gone Girl is a brilliant, terrifying and revelatory adaptation with superb performances, and it leaves everyone with high hopes for what Fincher and Flynn will do with their American remake of Channel 4’s Utopia.
Running time: 149 mins; Genre: Mystery/Thriller; Released: 2 October 2014
Director: David Fincher; Screenwriter: Gillian Flynn;
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike,Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens
Click here to watch the trailer for Gone Girl