There are certain qualities you expect from A David Fincher film, given his track record. Seven, Zodiac, and even the maligned Girl with the Dragon Tattoo re-adaptation all share stunning cinematography, jet black humour, psychological analysis, explorations and impeccable casting. Gone Girl is no exception.
Adapted from her novel, the screenplay by Gillian Flynn is a smooth transition. She pares down significant portions of the novel’s narrative without losing its core, which is to be commended. Her use of dialogue and voice over as taut connective tissue between scenes is highly skilled and complements Fincher’s evocative imagery; the marriage of director and writer as such is a healthy one.
The premise of Gone Girl is a simple one: Ben Affleck portrays Nick, who returns home one morning to find that his wife, Amy, (Rosamund Pike), is missing. The police, the media and even the cinema audience doubt affable good guy Nick. His easy laidback charm may a sociopath disguise, Fincher shows different layers to Nick; he is a caring son, a devoted brother and an inspiring creative writing teacher. But surely, nobody is that good, that laidback? Is his civility a mask? Fincher expertly plays with our Instinctive scepticism in the early acts so much so that we simply remain unsure of Nick; this is down to Affleck’s performance and Fincher’s direction. While the subtle depths which Affleck brings to his performance is laudable, this film belongs unreservedly to Rosamund Pike.
Pike’s performance may well be a career best; she take risks with passion, conviction and unbridled intensity. Her presence as Amy dominates even when she is off-screen, so much so that when the second and third acts kick in, the humour, in the requisite jet black, is wicked and Pike is at its core.
It is somewhat of a disappointment then that the film’s depiction of its female characters is so conventional, creating a dent in an otherwise solid piece. Gone Girl is by no means a misogynistic film, but it does stereotypically present woman as a threat to men. Likeable female characters, Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin sister and Kim Dickens as the lead detective are essentially tomboys; the remainder of the female cast are either manipulative, femme fatales, gossips or attention seekers. While it would be nice to accept that Coon and Dickens are examples to the contrary, such contrasts with the more overly feminine characters simply proves the point.
Rounding off a cast which serves to enhance the film is Neil Patrick Harris. There is something surreal about watching Barney, the character he played in US sitcom How I Met Your Mother twisted into a character reminiscent of Norman Bates from Psycho. Harris, much like Affleck, has you guessing from the start as to whether or not he is capable of such diabolical deeds. Along with Tyler Perry as a charismatic, yet controversial lawyer, Fincher once again showcases his knack for casting the right actor, regardless of their past acting credits. Those familiar with Perry’s work, for instance the Madea series, will be surprised at his nuanced turn here.
There is no doubt that Gone Girl is a film with only minor flaws. Ultimately it is a contender for one of the best films of the year and Pike, the strongest performance of 2014. Fincher’s knack for constructing thrillers with a keen intelligence, social satire and solid performances remains intact.
David MacDonald Graham