“Gone Girl” probably won’t win an Oscar for Best Picture, though it’s already getting buzz; it’s too ridiculous and trashy for Academy voters. But David Fincher’s new movie, which debuted last week at the New York Film Festival, is clearly the work of an auteur and in many ways represents the culmination of his past works.
Based on a book by Gillian Flynn, the movie shows Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) on the day of the disappearance of his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike), as the viewer is left to wonder whether Nick is responsible. Through a series of flashbacks and other narrative quirks, the movie also shows Amy’s perspective, and it features a big twist in the middle.
Right from the rapid-fire opening titles, “Gone Girl” drips with Fincher’s glossy, stylish aesthetic. Much like in “Dragon Tattoo” or even “Zodiac,” the decidedly dark tone is offset by the efficient editing, but it also has a strong sense of humour as in “Fight Club.”
There’s a palpable distance between the characters on-screen and the audience, so what we get is a very detached look at the events. Fincher simply lays out information without bias, and the slow but steady reveal of key plot points ensures that the audience never knows what’s going to happen next.
This procedural approach is typical of the director; films like “Zodiac” and “Se7en” are similarly cold and reserved. Even the more mainstream “Panic Room” and “The Social Network” have a certain clinical rhythm, a quality that has naturally evolved and become increasingly notable through his career. Fincher always finds a way to tell his story by emphasising the facts, and he takes this concept to new heights in “Gone Girl” by disclosing the nasty details in a dizzying manner.
The first tonal shift occurs with Amy’s introduction, as her narration brings a heightened sense of humour and doesn’t shy away from graphic depictions of sex. Amy narrates the story via her exquisitely detailed diary, and it’s not long before the story turns into a tug-of-war between our two narrators. Pike turns in a stellar, scene-stealing performance as Amy — and she truly could be a strong contender for a Best Actress Oscar. As we stick with Nick in the present, Fincher entwines Amy’s narrated flashbacks to provide a fuller picture, but we’re never quite sure of what to believe.
The film exhibits a hallucinatory effect through its quick editing that is further accented by the abrasive but restrained score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who won an Academy Award for “The Social Network.”
The film’s structure is part of what makes it so unabashedly entertaining — it’s a pulpy, trashy story dressed up so it appears more glamorous than it really is. The plot itself gets just as silly and hard-to-believe as an episode of ABC’s “Scandal,” but the material is elevated by Fincher’s masterful direction and the fantastic cast. It’s a rare joy to see something so dark and smutty make it to the mainstream, let alone directed by a two-time Best Director Oscar nominee.
Author/screenwriter Flynn sticks with the “he-said-she-said” composition of her novel, which limits the audience’s knowledge and ensures that the filmmakers are always one step ahead. “Gone Girl” thrives on upending the audience’s perceptions and expectations. The filmmakers intentionally misdirect us by exploring one side of the story just to throw us off guard with a completely new development a couple of scenes later.
The beauty of the misdirection is that it is all implied; we are merely flies on the wall, observing the character’s actions and making judgments for ourselves. The audience is forced to make assumptions about Nick, which are either confirmed or rejected as Fincher weaves in crucial facts from alternate angles.
Fincher is no stranger to a good mystery (“Se7en” is still referenced as a benchmark for the genre), and “Gone Girl” takes his well-established skills to new heights. The gritty, in-your-face tone of “Se7en” is replaced by a quiet, underlying sense of dread that fills the screen with tension. Combined with a wry, sardonic wit reminiscent of “Fight Club”, it’s not hard to envision “Gone Girl” as a career-spanning highlight reel of Fincher’s best qualities.
One of the more amusing aspects of “Gone Girl” is its slightly exaggerated but not too far off send-up of modern day journalism.At the press conference following the film’s premiere at theNew York Film Festival, Flynn referred to the media’s presence in the film as a”a blown-up Greek chorus.” She expanded on this by saying that the film is, at least partially, about the idea that in this age dominated by media, we are forced to become “consumers of someone else’s tragedy.”
Fincher was quick to defend the media as a whole and singled out the “narrow bandwidth of tragedy vampirism” (think Nancy Grace) that, according to Flynn, casts a dichotomy of heroes and villains “against our wills” despite a lack of any actual evidence. Fincher and Flynn explore these ideas in a playful manner that leads to some of the film’s biggest laughs.
Ultimately, “Gone Girl” works best when it’s playing up its sleazy sense of humour and not taking itself too seriously. There’s a lot more bubbling under the surface of the film, including a bitingly satirical examination of marriage and a questionable portrayal of feminism, but it’d be hard to elaborate further without spoiling anything, and most of the fun comes from watching the mystery unravel in real time. “Gone Girl” may not be the best picture of the year, but it’s an enjoyable diversion and an intriguing choice for Fincher.
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