Film Review: Gone Girl Dir. David Fincher
There is a specific type of literacy that has been ingrained into western civilization. Arguably even more so than our ability to read text, that is the print medium in all its forms, we understand instinctively how to make sense of visual images in an often unspoken way, it is second nature. This is perhaps both the reason for as well as a product of a media saturated culture that stretches out to include film, television, and indeed all forms of visual communication. Entering a cinema, as the lights dim and the screen comes to life we have an unconscious knowingness about the conventions of what it is that we are about to see, expectations are formed if only from a life of experience with such an activity. As Gone Girl begins, the studio logos appear as predicted but there is something slightly off. The 20th century fox logo fades at what must be only a second (if not less) sooner than usual and this slight change in custom leaves one acutely aware that we are being played with and we lose a certain degree of comfort, leaving us feeling rather unsure of where the screen will take us.
Where we find ourselves is within the forensically clean world of David Fincher. Fincher has made nine films prior to Gone Girl and with his tenth feature he continues to prove that he is one of the most trustworthy and sophisticated American filmmakers currently working within the studio system, as well being one of the most consistent and stylish. From the opening credits Fincher continues to set a tone of unease with visual text that appears just long enough for you to read it but not really long enough do so without rushing. This is an effective way of creating mood quickly that Fincher’s films almost always employ. From the filthy tone set by Se7en (alongside Nine Inch Nails Closer) with its distorted book binding sequence, to the way the credits appear softly as Mark Zuckerberg runs back to his dorm in The Social Network (again accompanied by a Trent Reznor score) that immediately captures the loneliness inherent in that film. Once again Fincher teams up with Reznor for the score of Gone Girl and as always it manages to not only convey an impressive amount of empathy but it should be celebrated further for its sneaky subtle moments that add to the uncertainty that this film has at its core.
For those unaware, Gone Girl is based on a novel by Gillian Flyn who also penned the screenplay and it’s the story of a man whose wife goes missing on the day of their anniversary. What unfolds from here aligns with most of your mysterious ‘who-done-it’ narratives. The suspicion of the husband, the supportive friend (in this case sister), the up and down cops, one more trusting than the other and the media and town folk who create from it all, a nation sweeping tale of the secrets kept behind closed doors in middle American suburbia.
It is the seemingly clichéd narrative that allows the film to disarm, disable and dis-empower its audience. After about forty minutes of the more than 2 hour long film I was actually wondering if Fincher had made Panic Room again. That is to say, he had he made another popcorn film that although well done, was nothing of the standard of what I know he is capable of. But Gone Girl is actually far from convention or cliché and even its more obvious satirical jabs at the media and media culture are just the cusp of the subtle nuances that make up is gorgeously well crafted cinematic whole.
In such a mature delivery of narrative, if I may use such an overused term, Gone Girl owes a great debt to all of its players and there is not one single saggy performance in the film. A pleasant surprise considering that the cast features the likes of both Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris who are both superb throughout, with Harris achieving levels of creepiness that I did not ever think him capable of. What is so clever, and what really demands applause for both the cast (the best of which is Rosamund Pike's performance) and indeed all hands on this film is that at no point are you ever really sure if you are able to trust any of the faces and voice you come in contact with. It is so uncomfortable because the actors are so real within characters that are strangely hyper-real, at times like caricatures. Kim Dickens, playing our main detective is almost never seen without a giant foam coffee cup.
And that is really what Gone Girl is all about. Beyond its more obvious (although well done and relevant) stab at media culture, the film is about our ability to understand and read not only images but people in our lives, and our relationships with them, be them complex, mundane, loving or otherwise. It is about filling roles firstly for appearances and perceptions and then becoming so lost within such roles that we find that they have become reality. Gone Girl is perhaps Fincher’s most contemplative and curious film, which in a filmmaker whose work is endlessly exploring such territory, may lead to calling it his best…although I think several more viewings are required. What can be said for certain is that Fincher has managed to create a smart, witty, and thoughtfully deep puzzle movie that is also unquestionably enthralling and entertaining. With Gone Girl he has concurred successfully the difficult balance of depth and entertainment perhaps better than ever before…a struggle that is perpetually less accomplished in the works of his contemporaries such as Christopher Nolan, whose films, despite their common sophistication, have never given me as much pleasure as Gone Girl managed to. The film breathes with ease and yet never runs out of breath and that makes it one of the most disciplined and impressive features of the year thus far.