Director David Fincher has returned to the big screen. That should be enough to get anyone excited, with some of the finest films ever made under his belt - 'Zodiac', 'Se7en' and 'The Social Network' to name a few. Combine that with the intrigue of him taking on a blockbuster novel, Gillian Flynn’s ‘Gone Girl’, as well as bringing Flynn on as screenwriter, and some of the most unusual casting in a studio film we’ve seen in a while, and you can’t help but be curious. I will admit, as soon as the film was announced, I refused to read the acclaimed novel, determined to approach the film as fresh as possible. It seemed like such an unusual choice for Fincher, a strangely mainstream one. Then again, making a film about Facebook seemed like an unusual choice, and we know how that one turned out.
Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) is reported missing by her husband Nick (Ben Affleck). The whole country becomes obsessed with the case, and Amy quickly becomes a saint in her absence. With few clues to go on, and Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) forced to follow something akin to a treasure hunt, the public suspicion begins to swing in Nick’s direction. His manner is odd, his reactions don’t make sense, he isn’t conducting himself as he should. Could Nick Dunne, the smiling All-American from Missouri, have killed his gorgeous blonde wife?
It’s difficult to talk about ‘Gone Girl’ at length without letting slip some of its many secrets and surprises. At first, the well-trodden premise seems like a strangely conventional choice for Fincher, but once it hits its stride, it’s very clear that Flynn is inviting him to play with the same twisted ideas and images that continue to fascinate him. The film is a master class in control, not just from Fincher, but from his entire team. Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth shoots suburbia with a cold disconnect, aided by a surprisingly simple (and expectedly brilliant) score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
In terms of execution, ‘Gone Girl’ sits closer to ‘Zodiac’ (2007) in its restraint rather than the glorious excess of ‘Fight Club’ (1999). This is Fincher’s first film in a suburban landscape, the modern equivalent to white-picket fence Americana, and like the best films of David Lynch and Sam Mendes, what fascinates him more is the putrid rot underneath. Once the film hits its second act, that restraint finally makes sense, and piece by piece, we begin to see the dark and the twisted. It’s tempting to say that, at its best, ‘Gone Girl’ is amongst the most revolting films Fincher has directed, and I mean that in the best possible way. This is a mainstream film, but within those parameters he and his established team of artists have found their subtle ways to subvert it, juxtaposing images of perfect homes and upper-class living with moments of violence and villainy Shakespeare would wet himself over. It’s also a massive credit to the team to hand the task of adaptation to Flynn herself, probably the only writer who could have gotten their head around her serpentine plot. The screenplay balances all the balls in the air with a structure that bounces between time frames and reality/fantasy, bolstered by a tremendous amount of humour that Fincher and the cast revel in. There really isn’t much to fault about the execution of this film - but considering the team, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
The film is a master class in control, not just from Fincher, but from his entire team.
Talking about the cast is even more difficult; so much of what makes their work extraordinary comes down to the sudden shifts in the narrative. Ben Affleck has literally never been better than in this film. Nick Dunne is tricky character to pull off, the American dream with a smile that walks the line between earnest and fake. Much of the film rests on just how much you trust Nick. Affleck is the perfect choice, with probably the best material he’s had to work with yet as an actor. He keeps us always on our toes, and you never know just where he’ll go next. The supporting cast are also sublime, especially Kim Dickens as Detective Boney, Carrie Coon (fresh from HBO’s ‘The Leftovers’) as Nick’s intelligent and devoted sister Margo and Neil Patrick Harris as a figure from Amy’s past. Most impressive though is Rosamund Pike as Amy. She knocks the part completely out of the ballpark and establishes herself as a major star in the process. I can’t tell you why (again, too many secrets), but trust me, you want to see what she has up her sleeve.
David Fincher is my favourite living director, so I walked into ‘Gone Girl’ with astronomical expectations. To my relief, they were satisfied. This is a delectably evil film, arousing and revolting in all the right ways. While it isn’t quite a masterpiece like ‘Se7en’ or ‘Zodiac’ or ‘The Social Network’, it only just falls short of it, making it as satisfying and exhilarating an experience as ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’. If you’ve read the book, I can’t say how well satisfied you’ll be as I haven’t read it, but if you're unaware of twisted tale of Nick and Amy Dunne, read nothing and rush to the cinema as quick as you can. David Fincher has crafted another sublime work of cinema, pulled from the depths of hell, with some of the most reprehensible characters you will ever meet. I already can’t wait to see it again.