Gone Girl

Gone Girl ★★★★

[NOTE: You're probably aware that this film has several unexpected plot twists. I'm not going to write about them. I am going to write about the film's general attitudes and the mood it leaves you with afterwards, which might be considered too much of a hint at later developments. There is a value to going in completely cold to this film. It's your call whether you carry on reading this review.]

I imagine David Fincher feels very proud that he's made the first Hollywood film to use the word "twincest".

When we compare Fincher to Alfred Hitchcock, the main point of comparison seems to me to be the way that they both like showing the audience the face of a movie star they love, and saying "This person is a pervert, or a psychopath, or both." Gone Girl opens with as classic an example as you can get - "This man, Nick Dunne, Ben Affleck, murdered his wife". Then it gets substantially more complex.

It's true that Affleck is exactly the kind of unflappable, handsome, capable star that Fincher loves to put through hell. He does that here, and when he cracks, it's brilliant. You remember that Fincher is the man who made Sigourney Weaver bald, made Daniel Craig puke, aged Brad Pitt to death and back and mangled Jared Leto's face twice. But the film belongs to Rosamund Pike, an actress who doesn't really have a type to be cast against. Amy Dunne is such a protean character, the whole pivot of the film is that everyone who sees her imagines her as someone completely different. With Pike, you see how that could happen.

The treatment of Amy is at the centre of some of the allegations of misogyny that have been thrown at the film. Watching it, I did occasionally think "Christ, Gillian Flynn hates women", but on balance I'd say she's more of an undiscriminating misanthrope. There are a few tired cheap shots, like the vapid teenage girls talking about how "hot" Nick is at a candlelit vigil for Amy, but most of the critique cuts deeper. If the bad behaviour by female characters stands out more, it's probably because it's more of an unusual thing to see on the big screen - the male characters are often as shitty, but Hollywood tends to code awful male behaviour and casual sexism as "badass", so it doesn't register as much.

As always in a Fincher film, the transgressive stuff is perversely thrilling. It seems odd that a society which can take Heath Ledger's Joker to their hearts so much would be troubled by what happens in Gone Girl, but Gone Girl lacks the comforting unreality of a superhero movie. Fincher and Flynn are hitting you where you live here, trying to play on your suspicions of the person you sleep next to every night. That's a fairly reckless thing for a studio thriller to be doing.

Watching the trailers I was concerned that Gone Girl would be the film that made Fincher's style into a Photoshop filter, where diffuse shadows, sickly artificial lighting and a Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross score can now be easily applied to any airport novel of your choice. But even though the film doesn't stretch his visual capabilities (it is probably his most restrained film from that angle) it is a major storytelling challenge, most of which comes off. And it's his first film since Fight Club to directly challenge the audience who'll be most attracted to it, locating the sickness of modern society not in Silicon Valley geeks or Swedish serial killers, but in you. You in the seat, right now. Judging by the packed cinema I saw it in, there are more people than you'd think waiting to take that slap in the face.

All the normal things for Fincher are in order - Jeff Cronenweth's cinematography is gorgeous, the aforementioned Reznor/Ross score does an incredible job of tying an incredibly diverse film together, and the supporting cast are great. Particular props go to Carrie Coon as Nick's acid-tongued sister and Boyd Holbrook and Lola Kirk as a stoner couple in desperate straits. Fincher's eye for against-type casting hits the jackpot twice with Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry, and Emily Ratajkowski gets the second-best line delivery of the movie ("Godspell!" - the best, of course, being "That's how the kids wear 'em!").

Some ideological film criticism, particularly of genre films, tends to focus on whether the film ends with normality overturned or normality restored. Gone Girl manages to do both at the same time, and it's hellishly unsettling. The cinematic equivalent of an Auteurs album.

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