Gone Girl, dir. David Fincher, scr. Gillian Flynn, based on the novel Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, st. Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon
Timeout once perceptively summed up their review of Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct with "trash, but watchable trash", and indeed there's plenty to compare with Fincher's adaptation of Gillian Flynn's 2012 novel beyond the quote. Both films thematically centre around potentially tawdry subject matter that's elevated by a director with a keen eye for both technical aesthetic and a canny knack for eliciting wholly persuasive performances from his leads. Such subject matter would surely be mere TV-movie fodder for less accomplished filmmakers, yet Fincher's skill, rather like a popular fruit-titled electronics company, resides in being able to sell us something we never knew we had an interest in - in Fincher's case, remakes, CEO biopics, Brad Pitt aging backwards.
Affleck and Pike play Nick and Amy Dunne whose story is charted from courtship to marriage to the woman in white's titular disappearance on the couple's fifth wedding anniversary. Nick, alternately hangdog and smarmy, fields the predictable media frenzy that engulfs smalltown North Carthage, gossipers natter, and television pundits sign up for their pound of flesh. To unravel any more plot would be to fundamentally undo this Rube Goldbergian tale, but once again and true to form, Fincher delights in every flourish of misdirection. But the content is only half the story as you suspect Fincher is having way too much fun dissecting pulp convention and structure; there's surely only one way to take Kim Dickins' Rhonda Boney, the detective running point, holding up one of Amy's breadcrumbs - an envelope with "Clue One" written on it - proclaiming, "Looks like we've found our first clue!" These little details stretch credulity at times, reinforcing the artifice of what you're watching, but for a narrative that indulges the imprecision of recounting, retelling and reporting, it is entirely apt. Additionally, the film rigidly sticks to the tested Three Act formula - actually more a construct of its source material than anything - and in the process, neatens and organises a potentially wild and unkempt story. Again, like Sharon Stone's Catherine Tramell, Pike's Amy is all cut-glass and glaciers; stoic, shrewd, and similarly, you wouldn't imagine Affleck's hapless Nick is beyond such a sartorial blunder as Michael Douglas' shirtless V-neck. Fincher's movie also comments on, rather than obsesses over, the nature of gender representation during all the media attention; the blonde-haired, ivory-skinned "amazing" Amy seems to convict her poor husband from the revelation of her publicity image alone. But ultimately, this is a film about trust between partners. Not necessarily the overtly Machiavellian and excessively Hitchcockian deception featured here, but rather secrets and regrets we bite down on rather than share. Fincher fans will welcome the familiar greys and browns that make up longtime Fincher cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth's palate, and Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor return to imbue the movie with more synth sterility, but this is as good a film as the director has ever made - smart, slick and eminently watchable.