David Fincher has never been one to stray away from the ugly side of humanity. From "Se7en" all the way to "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" there's a mean streak that runs through his filmography. For his latest venture "Gone Girl", he's been criticized for misogyny in addition to the usual labels of "cold" filmmaking. Personally, I remain unconvinced of the charge, though the furor over it has resulted in some fantastic op-eds. What interests me more is that it took a female screenwriter (Gillan Flynn) to deliver one of his darkest films to date, if not the darkest.
"Gone Girl" is an adaptation of Flynn's own bestselling novel of the same name. It tells the story of Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), a beautiful woman with a seemingly perfect marriage to her husband Nick (Ben Affleck). On the occasion of their 5th wedding anniversary however, she mysteriously disappears and the search begins to peel away the illusion of marital bliss. The clues seem to point to Nick and he becomes the prime suspect. As the investigation gains widespread media attention everyone wants to know, did Nick Dunne kill his wife?
That million dollar question forms the backbone of the film. Parsing out the reasons why he would do it or whether he even committed the crime at all, brings up a whole world of social commentary. These issues include the idealistic expectations placed on women, the value of marriage and the dangers of our obsession with the media and celebrity. To explain exactly how the film engages these topics would lead into spoiler territory though and that would be a great disservice to those who haven't yet seen the film or read the book.
What I can say is that it's superbly written. Apart from "The Social Network" (a true collaborative effort with Aaron Sorkin) this is perhaps Fincher's only film where the impact of the storytelling is attributed mainly to the actual story rather than his meticulous vision. Certainly, it has all the trademarks of a Fincher film - duplicitous characters, Jeff Cronenweth's stark visuals, Kirk Baxter's shrewd editing and a chilling score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross - but dare I say it, the film would still work without him. Gillian Flynn is the one driving this roller coaster ride.
In "Gone Girl", Flynn has really found the perfect mix of side-splitting humour, pulpy thrills and complex drama. A big part of that is due to the film's impeccable structure. It's so rare to see a mystery film that has its pivotal revelation in the midsection and still have enough interesting material to continue building from there. It's riveting stuff that will leave you on the edge of your seat.
The film is just a well-oiled machine and a major component of its success is Rosamund Pike's performance as Amy. As a fan of hers I already went in with high expectations and she still exceeded all of them. Often relegated to supporting roles playing two-dimensional dream girls ("An Education", "Barney's Version", "Pride & Prejudice"), Amy Dunne plays like a rebuke to her typecast career. She's playing at least 3 layers of performances here and she nails them all. You'll surely read many other reviews praising Ben Affleck, Tyler Perry and Carrie Coon (all great by the way), but this is the Rosamund Pike show. They're all just window dressing for Pike's playground.
The prominence of Pike's performance brings me back to the question of misogyny. The accusation really intrigues me when it's directed towards such a well-written female character (she definitely passes the Bechdel test) and the film is credited to Flynn's feminine voice. The whole film is an indictment of selfish men. In fact, I perceived it as a terrifying slap in the face to my masculinity. In my opinion, the film should therefore be lauded for pushing the boundaries of what "women's movies" can be. It's ballsy with a distinct pro-feminist touch.
Many highbrow critics have turned up their noses at "Gone Girl" by calling it disposable "trash", likely due to it's source as a best-selling novel with broad appeal. Yet that ignores how deliriously entertaining the movie is. Furthermore, it's also an incisive commentary on contemporary society. This is a film that asks you to just sit back, relax and enjoy. It's vicious and delicious.
In terms of Oscar attention, I expect the film to pop up on nominations morning, the question is how many nods it will get. Firstly, I'd say the film is a slam dunk for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actress. I can't see anything preventing Flynn and Pike from being nominated. I also suspect Kirk Baxter will continue his successful partnership with Fincher and find a spot in Best Editing. Speaking of David Fincher, I think he must be considered a Best Director contender due to his brand name and the film fits with the style of work he's previously been nominated for. Ditto Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who should once again be in the mix for Best Original Score. In the end, it's very difficult to gauge how the Academy will receive a Fincher film so none of us will really know until the nominations are announced in January. I'll be keeping an out for a Best Picture nod especially. This is currently my favourite of the year.