Kind of impossible to write anything about GONE GIRL without spoilers. I can try not to be gratuitous with it but if you haven’t seen or read it, you should stop right here. And go see it, it’s entertaining! David Ehrenstein has compared it to a certain forties melodrama and he’s right, but even naming it would give too much away if you like to experience plotlines with newborn innocence.
David Fincher used to make two kinds of films — interesting ones like SE7EN and FIGHT CLUB and not-so-interesting ones like PANIC ROOM, but they were all stylistically indulgent and visually enjoyable. Then he made BORING BASTARD BUTTON which was kept afloat entirely by technological and stylistic excess, and then he kind of stopped being flamboyant and started doing television. Though ZODIAC had some extravagant visuals, it also ushered in what has become more typically the Fincher look — cool, snappy, dark, bluish, classical — traditional enough in framing and movement that he could use it to set up House of Cards and then pass it over to other directors who were mainly able to continue the style seamlessly.
So for GONE GIRL, Fincher marshalls the performances and Jeff Cronenweth lights things in his attractively chill manner and no excesses obtrude. Ben “low affect” Affleck has the right blend of everyman and doofus, is blank enough to potentially harbour dark secrets, and his puppyish aspects contrast nicely with Rosamund Pike’s more feline quality. When the movie needs more energy, Tyler Perry brings it as a celebrity lawyer. All the supporting cast are strong, and there’s a particularly pleasing mix of women — Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens deserve special mention.
The film GONE GIRL owes most to is (as acknowledged by author/screenwriter Gillian Flynn) 1945’s LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, in which (last chance spoiler alert) Gene Tierney commits suicide and frames her husband for her murder. But instead of coming as conclusion, in GONE GIRL, this is the whole set-up, revealed as a mid-film turning point — since the suicide itself is deferred, the rest of the film can play out the consequences and complications, which are legion. Like a 40s women’s picture, the movie evokes a pleasurable response of condemnation mixed with admiration. The woman is bad, and we should want to see her punished, but she’s also very impressive, and we find ourselves rooting for her. At a certain point in the story, we are rooting for both man and wife — maybe this is what Fincher means by calling it a perfect date movie.
The idea that the film is in some way anti-woman strikes me as dumb, since it contains several other female characters besides the wicked (yet quasi-justified) wife. Affleck’s sister and the detective investigating the case seem to me wholly or largely admirable people, just imperfect enough to be human and interesting. There is another female monster, the representative of tabloid television, who is just this side of caricature — but really, tabloid TV is by now impossible to treat unjustly — it’s a monster about which anything you say is likely to be true.
I may have to make an exception for Emily
Ratzkywatzky Ratajkowski as Young Woman With Large Breasts, who fulfills the job description but doesn’t add much to it. The character, amusingly called Andie Hardy, is a lust figure for males (in the audience and behind the camera and onscreen) and is regarded with contempt by the women in the film, and obviously their assessment that she’s not super-bright has some basis, but if played by an actor rather than a model (and not in the Bressonian sense) the part could possibly have been more, ahem, fleshed out. “The other woman” character is often a problematic one, but she’s still a human being.
I can’t say for sure if the plot twist would have worked differently if I hadn’t had a tip-off. (This is why “serious” criticism may need spoiler alerts too — how to assess the impact of a plot if you know what’s coming? Some movies don’t care if you know — Orson Welles had a fondness for beginning at the end — but some very much do. GONE GIRL is somewhere in between.) It seemed to me that Rosamund Pike’s narration was less than gripping in the first half — the romance stuff was fine but the slow deterioration of the marriage felt under-imagined, which I gather is not the case in the book. In part 2, the urgency of her flight and Affleck’s plight are intimately entwined and reinforce each other, but in the first half her soap opera can’t compete with his thriller.
But when the twist is revealed, the movie moves into high gear — we now have no idea how it’s going to fill its running time, but there is certainly a dangerous situation in play and we’re going to have to find out. Here is where a spoiler could be really annoying. The movie’s solution involves more melodramatic elements, some possible plot holes (video evidence that may contradict Pike’s account) and a really interesting suspended anxiety ending, which is the movie’s boldest stroke.
It’s the kind of film which seems exceptional in the modern movie culture, but could conceivably be the norm if only movies enjoyed the same conditions as quality TV. In other words, it’s a good, edgy thriller. Liberate the filmmakers and this kind of thing could be the median level for Hollywood.