Monday, October 13, 2014
I'm likely forgetting many titles but not since 1989's WAR OF THE ROSES have I witnessed such a bitter, cynical, despairing view of marriage in a film. GONE GIRL, an adaptation of the bestselling novel by the author herself, Gilian Flynn, is a brutal, fascinating, engrossing, and sometimes acidly funny analysis of matrimony that is most certainly not recommended for engaged couples or anyone considering this holiest of unions. I did not read the book, but it's hard to imagine a darker examination of the dynamics of man and wife than what David Fincher's newest film displays.
Following what may be the most rapidly fading opening credits I've seen, GONE GIRL plunges into its "missing person" tale, nominally the kind seen in the news or true crime docs. To wit, as Jimmy Fallon interviewed lead actor Ben Affleck recently, he described this movie as "like the coolest episode of Dateline you've ever seen." Detailing the plot may lead you to agree, though the film also takes television to task as it eviscerates the way the media portrays and shapes the public's perception of those guilty or otherwise unfortunate souls who are accused of some crime.
Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a regular guy who had successfully wooed an upper crust Manhattanite named Amy (Rosamund Pike) into marriage and seeming bliss. On the afternoon of their fifth anniversary, Nick returns home to find a shattered coffee table and a missing wife. Detectives Boney and Gilpin (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) arrive to note more subtle evidence around the house, possibly suggesting a violent struggle and bloodletting that had been somewhat carelessly managed. Nick is not arrested but hounded for his suspected involvement. A press conference and soon nationwide coverage cast an ever shifting light on Nick, abetted by the relentless coverage by a Nancy Grace-type talk show host, Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle, in a precise performance). Also, Sela Ward (and nice to see her in a feature!) plays an Oprah-like cable host who interviews Nick, an expected hatchet job that goes quite differently.
In flashback we quickly learn how deceiving the Dunnes' facade was. Early, playful honeymoon teasing soon gives way not only to financial difficulties and family problems but also festering resentment and emotional abuse. Possibly physical as well. How is it that Nick was so clueless about his wife? Her friends? The fact that she was pregnant? But each flashback is from Amy's point of view, an important consideration. These scenes paint some bleak, perhaps uncomfortably real moments as when after husband subjects wife to quick, joyless sex and then flippantly inquires, "How about Outback tonight?".
Eventually, there will be a scene that reveals how and why Amy went missing. What we learn is as revealing as it is depressing. And no, invisible audience, I am not revealing any more. To spoil this movie's secrets will truly subtract from the experience.
And thus it is difficult to discuss GONE GIRL without analyzing those later scenes, its labyrinthine plotting and scathing indictments of a relationship turned sour. But soon, even more disturbingly, you learn that despite all of the negative, harsh observations this is still a love story, albeit an alarmingly twisted one. Perhaps, sadly, characteristic of many contemporary couplings. The discussions of how one transforms him or herself into what they think their mate wants is especially trenchant. There were moments when the film's (particularly one character's) cynicism was so concentrated I almost gasped. I kept wondering what happened to Flynn to prompt her to create such a downbeat story. How can we get such a clear, internal gape into the mind of unspeakable hurt and pain and calculated evil unless the author had experienced something akin to this herself? I have not read any interviews, so maybe you can tell me?
The film's ultimate cynicism about both Federal and local law enforcement is also quite disheartening. As you ponder that, you may start finding flaws in the patchwork. GONE GIRL is not an airtight thriller, rather more of painful social treatise.
Fincher, one of the few mainstream directors who can be called an artist, surprised me this time with unusually subdued direction, despite reports that again he subjected actors to as many as fifty takes of one scene. Aside from a few stunning shots - the emergence of a character drenched in blood from a car and a sex scene shot overhead that makes the female appear as like a spider devouring her prey - there is little of the sort of fluid style the director has employed so many times before in films such as FIGHT CLUB and ZODIAC. Even THE SOCIAL NETWORK is flashier. I think I will appreciate Fincher's restraint with GONE GIRL more when I see it again. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross again provide a perfect score, also almost minimalist, and eerier than ever.
The performances are across the board fine, including (surprisingly) Tyler Perry as an attorney who specializes in accused husbands and Carrie Coon as Nick's twin sister. Neil Patrick Harris is the right sort of creepy for his part as Amy's childhood ex. Affleck is perfectly cast in an Everyman role, far from innocent though not necessarily guilty. As for Pike - well, her knockout turn is undeniably strong, and will haunt you long afterward. "They'll" be talking about it for years to come.