Thursday, October 09, 2014

Film review: GONE GIRL (David Fincher, 2014)

Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel on which the film is based and for which she wrote for screen herself, was ubiquitous on the Tube throughout 2012 and to a lesser extent, last year. It opens with a quote from playwright Tony Kushner that reads: “Love is the world’s infinite mutability; lies, hatred, murder even, all knit up in it; it is the inevitable blossoming of its opposites, a magnificent rose smelling faintly of blood.” Fincher’s big-screen adaptation of the book captures the essence of this quote perfectly, slowly biding its time to illustrate the thin love between love and hate, and how, when it’s crossed, marriage morphs into deadly bouquet of barbed wire.


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Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), a writer who lost his job in the recession in NYC, returned to his hometown of North Carthage, Missouri with his beautiful and decorated wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), a Manhattanite who suffered a similar plight. On the afternoon of their fifth wedding anniversary, he returns home to find she’s missing. A table has been upended and glass shatters are all over his dining room floor. He calls the local cops to investigate, but events transpire and soon he becomes their prime suspect.

Meanwhile, the film gives us Amy’s side of the story in the form of diary entries. The early entries are just as saccharine as described in the novel, from the flirtatious banter the couple first exchange at a party, to the way Nick poses as a journalist at a press event for ‘Amazing Amy’, the book series of Amy’s parents which is based on her childhood, to propose for her. This latter detail was actually missing from the novel, but played out on the big screen, has an appropriate Hollywoodesque touch which shows just how photogenic the couple are, not to mention the potential in their relationship.

However, as Amy notes herself, the true test of a marriage comes when the recession hits, they are both laid off their writing jobs (Nick, for a men’s magazine, Amy, putting her Ivy League Masters-level education to good use constructing personality quizzes). Nick’s mother is diagnosed with cancer and they move back to Missouri, a decision she resents not being consulted about. Further diary entries reveal Amy wanted a baby but Nick didn’t, and when pestered about it, he turned violent. The diary ends with Amy wanting to buy a gun, fearing her husband may murder her.

These entries, however, jar with Nick’s side of the story. He protests that he’s the one who wanted and a baby and she was opposed, and the spending habits of his described by her, non-existent. But it doesn’t look good for Nick. Evidence is mounting up against him: credit card bills for expensive golf clubs, a neighbour who claims to be best friends with Amy even though he never even saw them speak, and most damningly, a pert 20-something mistress.

With a running time of 2 and a half hours, Fincher takes his time telling the story, but even then, a whole lot of detail was cut from the novel, so it would be churlish to complain. Practically every scene is a necessity. His leads are both very good, perhaps surprisingly so.

That Ben Affleck has two Oscars to his name is a piece of trivia that surprises many, given the quantity of clunkers on his CV, but in the unlikable, unreliable role of Nick, he’s spot-on. As the main detective examining the case Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens, doing the character justice with her brand of non-nonsense girl power) notes, we can’t tell if Nick is saying the wrong things because he’s actually that dumb. Affleck imbues Nick with just the right amount of moral ambiguity for us to hope that he didn’t do it.

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As the eponymous lead, Rosamund Pike absolutely knocks it out of the park. It might initially jar to see an actress so used to being typecast as the pretty airhead a la Jane Bennett (in one of Nick and Amy’s happier days, they romp in a library, and Pride and Prejudice is mentioned, a quasi-meta touch) in such a villainous role, but it is my belief that this is the part Pike has waited her entire life for, and she seizes it with aplomb. Whether she’s Amy the glamorous Upper East Side princess with the unwanted mild celebrity status, or Amy the poor shunned housewife fearing for her life, she’s never less than fully convincing, which makes the starkness of (what we perceive to be) Nick’s lies ever the more brazen.

In my favourite scene of the entire film, Pike's line-reading on Amy’s ‘Cool Girl’ monologue is fantastic, and one of the parts of the book that benefited from a big-screen translation; that whole sequence was a thrill to watch. The venom in Pike’s voice there was so real it was almost contagious. It was rumoured that Fincher cast Pike on hearing she was an only child, just like Amy, and perhaps it was that little touch that gave Pike the extra mileage to really bare her teeth. Channelling Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, she's deliciously evil when she needs to be, yet unsettlingly unreadable at others.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ eerie score suits the creepy vibe of the film perfectly, although I did feel they tried a bit too hard with the sound effects to unsettle the audience. The supporting cast are uniformly impressive bar Emily Ratajkowski (aka the hot brunette from the Blurred Lines video), who plays the mistress as a caricature. Admittedly we are never supposed to warm to Andie in the novel, but I did get the sense that she was whiny, misguided girl acting in her best interests there. In the film, Ratajkowski does nothing but rack up the horny college student stereotype.

It’s a bum-note that is fortunately drowned out by excellence elsewhere, especially Carrie Coon as Margot, Nick’s twin sister (balancing sisterly love with a gritty determination to avoid a self-pity parade) and Tyler Perry as the legal eagle who specialises in defending shady husbands Tanner Bolt (slick, confident and exactly the kind of man you need if you were in Nick’s dire straits). I was extremely excited to see How I Met Your Mother’s Barney Stinson on the cast list when the film was in production, but sadly Neil Patrick Harris is somewhat underused.

The film covers a lot of base, examining marriage, revenge, the media, to name but a few. In lesser hands, Gone Girl could have been a hot mess, but David Fincher knows how to tell a story better than anyone, being the man who even made even the tale of Facebook an engrossing one.

There’s plenty of dark laughs to be had in Nick and Amy’s journey, and ironically reinforces the point that hell hath no fury like a woman scored. Flynn’s handling of her own material is superb; trimming the fat, adding tweaks here and there, but retaining tone of misandry present the book. The end product improves on the novel to make for a disturbing, entertaining and hugely enjoyable cinematic experience.

9/10

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