Movie Review: Gone Girl (2014) – David Fincher’s Cinematic Craftwork and Gillian Flynn’s Loyal Script Ignite a Diabolically Fun Yet Immensely Cynical Thriller

gonegirl1As it is with all David Fincher directed features there is always a mixture of vague and seductive mystery layers to be uncovered usually from the point of view of some deeply complex protagonist, whether it’s the obsessions of a newspaper cartoonist in a methodical killer manhunt in Zodiac, a smug investment banker undergoing a human lab experiment in The Game, or a principled detective’s fight against evil trying to solve the religious slanted killings in Se7en. Once these layers have been unfolded they reveal an unpleasantly bleak center or rather a mirrored reflection that shows us a searing indictment of our modern times. This similar social criticism exists in Fincher’s latest meticulous perspective manipulating thriller which sees the director returning to confident, stylish form with a somber and accurate adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s twist-laden novel Gone Girl. After a slight misstep with the overly laborious adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Fincher has found a comfortable stride here with Gone Girl allowing a unique subtle tone of diabolical humor and shrewd mystery to control his carefully constructed thriller that remains consistently entertaining whether you know the final twist or not. What gives Gone Girl a slight uplift in quality isn’t merely Fincher’s perfected to a fault cinematic style or the pitch-perfect controlled performances from Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as the center subjects of a marriage gone wrong, but rather it’s the mix of social criticism where our tabloid 24 hour news cycle is bluntly targeted and a more subtle undercurrent on the perceptions of violence towards women is turned on its head. Gone Girl might have as its subject a damaged marriage but the film is about marriage as much as Fatal Attraction is about infidelity because Flynn’s novel has characters that unassumingly blend in with familiar archetypes in order to manipulate their surroundings and entrap those around them into their own twisted wills. Fincher effectively brings to the screen a surprisingly humorous yet hauntingly cynical neo-noir adaptation that tests our perceptions on violence, the media, and the basic concept of trust as Gone Girl brilliantly manipulates our personal attitudes into a who are you going to believe game of wills.

Just as it is with Gillian Flynn’s original novel Gone Girl is a complete deconstruction on the institution of marriage that becomes an unsettling manipulation game giving us a bleak view of modern times as told through two very different complex protagonists. The reason the film might possess the same piercing and diabolically mischievous back and forth is partially due to the fact that the script was penned by Gillian Flynn herself giving the film that same enigmatic spiral that’s paradoxically humorous and eerily unsettling. At the heart of the tale is Nick Dunne, a Missourian town local who comes to find something amiss in his home where it seems his wife Amy has vanished on their fifth wedding anniversary under mysterious circumstances with slight hints that an abduction and/or murder has occurred. This turns into a media circus that seeps into every aspect of Nick’s life as he struggles to keep his private life from turning into a public affair as each deliberately placed clue and unfortunate discovery turns all eyes on him being the prime suspect of murder. What follows is a deliciously Machiavellian thriller where the concept of who-done-it has now been twisted to include a who-are-you-going-to-believe aspect pivoting our individual perceptions, prejudices, and beliefs as part of the intriguing procedural on the screen since those are what drive a majority of the public consensus either towards or against Nick Dunne as the prime suspect. That’s the element that raises Gone Girl into a high caliber thriller because it isn’t simply a methodical procedural but it has a level of significance where it’s attempting to demonstrate that our public view can be so easily swayed by prejudice and experience. Gone Girl ponders the effect of a bombardment of opinionated media coverage where instinctual reaction and vitriolic opinion outweigh a sense of fact while also showing us that an existing history of men being violent towards women can be manipulated against them in a twist where crying wolf is always heeded. Because the script was adapted by Flynn herself it’s not surprising that the film hasn’t lost that sense of diabolical fun that made the book so entertaining yet also has the addition of Fincher’s cynical approach to the thriller that is coldly witty and bleakly metaphorical.

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No other modern filmmaker has consistently tackled the thriller genre with such calculating expertise as David Fincher whose irritating precision encapsulates haunting realities that bring with it dark and sinister overtones. Fincher’s sense of narrative reveal is seamlessly methodical while his pristine technicality serves as a perfect complimentary tool to explore the meticulousness of his clue oriented thrillers. With Gone Girl Fincher seems to be exploring a playful side where personality has now been integrated into the process giving the film a sense of humorous wit to coincide with the austere situations and ominous mood. This probably can be attributed to Flynn’s source material but it also seems Fincher is constantly growing as a filmmaker where his technicality is reigned in so that the story can be told in the manner it was meant to instead of allowing precision to take control as he has done in the past with the likes of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. And yet the craft of filmmaking here in Gone Girl showcases some of Fincher’s best collaborative work with his technical team as Jeff Cronenweth’s (Fight Club, The Social Network) chilly cinematography gives immensely detailed images for Kirk Baxter’s (The Social Network, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) deliberately careful editing that is all eerily complimented by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s unsettling ethereal score (Fincher and Reznor are to cinematic ominous scores as Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone were to sweeping epic scores). The film’s self-aware technical achievement seldom detracts from the narrative investment that enthralls you for its 145-minute running time which shows the intimate connection Fincher had with Flynn’s diabolically fun source material as he commands this masterful procedural thriller with cinematic grace and a controlled sense of playful cynicism.

What makes Gone Girl so immensely entertaining in its bleak reflection of our current state of marital affairs isn’t merely due to Fincher’s controlled sense of style but really it has to do with the phenomenal performances from the cast, especially with Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as the complexly flawed spouses of the marriage at hand. Pike in particular is a revelation as “Amazing Amy” as her beauty and presence creates such an unassuming foundation that propels the film into its most twisted and entertaining revelations. Whether it’s hearing her innocently expressive voice reading the delicately worded entries of her diary or seeing her calculating mind concoct a sadistically brilliant backstory she creates a paradoxical character that shifts her exterior to match her targets desires. She is effectively complimented by the unintentional smugness of Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne who utilizes his simplistic acting approach as strength here in Gone Girl where acting as a blank slate for the events at hand serves as an intriguing reactionary position. Affleck as of late has found a diligent and confident acting stride mostly for involving himself in good material he adapts and directs such as with The Town and Argo but when he aligns with a director as meticulous and knowledgeable as Fincher it isn’t uncommon for him to deliver an effective performance. But a thriller needs more than just two intriguing suspects at the heart of a mystery and Gone Girl gives us a unique tapestry of various characters that possess complex points of view and are all needed pieces to this meticulous enigma thriller. Whether it’s Neil Patrick Harris as the strangely obsessive ex-boyfriend or Kim Dickens as the scrupulous follow the facts detective or Carrie Coon as the loyal to the end sister, Gone Girl utilizes all these characters as carefully placed pawns on a mystery revealing chess board as they all add their own mark on the intricate details of the procedural that unfolds which such unassuming humor and cynical wit.

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Quality thrillers are incredibly rare to find in the cinemas these days mostly because product line based development in Hollywood demands the familiar instead of the challenging which always negates the entire twisty process of a thriller. However, it seems David Fincher has found a way to make the calculating familiarity of the thriller genre into an intriguing twist on convention as he plays with familiar elements and also adds a thoughtful reflection that always takes aim at some modern societal facet that needs deconstruction. Gone Girl isn’t your typical thriller because it’s twist is laid out somewhere in the middle of the film where perspectives change and believability is tested which heightens its mystery and demands the audience to pay attention to the sadistic fun that unfolds with grace at the hands of David Fincher. What makes Gone Girl so enthralling in its sinister intentions is how the film, much like the book, manipulates our perceptions on assumed archetypes and entraps us, as it does with some of the characters, into a complex web of Machiavellian intentions. It’s a film that must be experienced in all of its technical mastery and methodical reveals as it showcases David Fincher’s cinematic craft at its best while contained in an unconventional and ultimately cynical narrative. Gone Girl will definitely be a divisive film for many as it challenges certain perceptions on the environment of violence and easily assumed victimhood and any film that can get you talking is always a film worth your time.

Grade: B+

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