Gone Girl

Gone Girl ★★★★★

I noticed a funny thing when I sat in a 5:00 Friday showing of Gone Girl at my local mall theater: people are still seeing their first David Fincher film. Though one has to take into account how many people don't bother to learn the names and portfolios of artists and filmmakers, with a Fincher film, you can sit in a movie theater and feel that sensation around you; that deep sense of unease, that squirming feeling like the film is poking around in your soul and you're afraid of what it's going to find, and, in a moment from Gone Girl itself that I wouldn't dare spoil here, literal gasps of shock. You'd think people would be familiar with his work. One doesn't forget the first time they watch a Fincher film (unless that first film is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a film I very much like but will admit is the tonal outlier of his filmography thus far). I try not to gloat as a film fan, as I believe anyone who lords their knowledge of any topic over you rather than share it with you is a piece of shit, but there was a, for lack of a better word, perverse thrill in feeling this sensation around me in a theater filled with mostly middle-aged couples who'd come into see the new Ben Affleck flick and/or a movie version of that book their friends had talked about. And interviews and appearances throughout his career make it obvious that Fincher himself revels in this perverse thrill.

I have not read the novel itself, but I don't feel like I need to. Watching Gone Girl is watching a director and author's sensibilities meshing perfectly, with author Gillian Flynn's screenplay elevating the story's pulpy framework to realistic, tense heights, and Fincher's direction capturing every nuanced, pristine detail, and offsetting it enough to relay the nastiness within. I find that to be a recurring theme in Fincher's films. Some complain that he shoots everything like it's a commercial, but I see it as him digging into what's beneath that visual serenity, digging into the characters played by his admittedly pretty actors and actresses and seeing their internal faults. Even the squalor and decay of the settings of his darkest films, like Se7en and Fight Club, have a visual gloss to them. And Gone Girl is perhaps the thesis of this visual deconstruction. Every setting, whether it's a pristine midwestern home or the remnants of a burned-down mall serving as a homeless community, is shot with an impeccable eye by Fincher's longtime cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, who is just as responsible for the "Fincher style" as Fincher himself.

So, what is Gone Girl about? That part's the hardest to talk about. Going in blind, it's best to stick with what the trailers tell you. Nick Dunn (Ben Affleck at his most layered and humanistic), a fledgling writer and teacher, comes home to find that his wife Amy (a career-best and Oscar-worthy Rosamund Pike) has gone missing, with the only clues in the house being a broken glass table and a small bloodstain. New details begin to emerge about the case as the media turns on Nick, as secrets from both continue to be revealed.

That's all I feel I can say at this point. But the story's many surprising reveals are handled expertly, and though the film runs well past the two-hour mark, not one moment feels unnecessary or unwelcome. Most surprisingly, the film moves between being chillingly unnerving and funny through a perfectly-written blend of realistic and banter-y dialogue. The film also owes a lot to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' score. Gone Girl is the duo's third collaboration with Fincher in a row, and at this point, they are as integral to the mood of his films as Cronenweth. Their score may not hit the surprising highs of their work on The Social Network (and honestly, few modern film scores can), but their eerie rhythmic landscapes and ambient compositions perfectly compliment the surfaces of Fincher's films, blending into what we see onscreen and driving our mood whenever it needs to.

But perhaps Gone Girl's strongest element is its cast. On paper, this cast is... unique. As it is onscreen. But Fincher's (in)famous process of demand from his actors pays massive dividends here. As mentioned, Affleck does excellent work here. He's one of the most "regular-guy" actors working today, and Fincher uses his warm-yet-distancing disposition and body language to great effect. I mentioned Rosamund Pike's performance above, but there really isn't enough to be said about here. For reasons I won't get into here, Amy Dunn is a character that requires some incredibly searing and bare acting abilities, and Pike makes every second of her screentime sizzle with unease and takes full advantage of the viewer's shifts in feeling towards the character. Her performance may honestly be one of the best Fincher's directed. It's such a cliché at this point to make statements like these, but I will be truly disappointed if she doesn't remain in the conversation come awards season.

As Nick's twin sister Margot, Carrie Coon really is the heart and soul of the film. The character's determination to support and help Nick through the gauntlet of events he experiences, even as awful things he's done come to light, is enthralling to watch, and will likely be my go-to example the next time I hear someone say that Fincher's characters lack real emotion. Neil Patrick Harris is great in his brief-but-pivitol turn, taking his effortless charisma and charm and doing something rather different with it. Casey Wilson, one of the best comedy actresses working right now in my opinion, is given the chance to play the film's perhaps most lively character (or perhaps second-most-lively, given Missi Pyle's small-but-pivitol role as a Nancy-Grace-esque cable newswoman/muckraker), and she runs away with it whenever she's onscreen. I'm still not, nor do I think I will ever be, used to seeing adult Patrick Fugit in anything. Almost Famous was, and is, such a pivotal movie in my life that I'll probably always just picture him as teenage William Miller as a default. Also, though he's still a fine actor, he now sort of resembles a gym teacher I hated growing up.

Oh, and I really liked Tyler Perry in this film. Yep. I found myself captivated when I was watching Tyler Perry on a screen in front of me. Making fun of Tyler Perry is like beating a dead horse at this point, but his casting in this film from the moment it was announced was an odd source of glee to me. You have literally opposite ends of the spectrum of filmmaking here: perhaps the most meticulous and obsessive mainstream director working today, directing the most (financially) successful current actor/director, who never really proves that he is fully invested in either. And it works here. As Nick's defense attorney Tanner Bolt (what an amazing, amazing name), Perry replaces his usual wooden hamming with charisma and slick charm that I can only imagine emerged from a total breakdown brought on by Fincher's 60-take method. He's dynamite in this.

Honestly, I can go on and on about this movie, and like all of Fincher's work (and especially given its own labyrinth of reveals and payoffs), Gone Girl will definitely be a rewatch for me in the near-future. I desperately had to pee for the last hour or so, and I just couldn't leave. Fincher is that hypnotizing. There will be conversations about misogyny that one could view in the film (though I think that it would come through viewing it through a narrow lens and ignoring the source material), but it will be worth it to pick this movie apart just a little bit more. Gone Girl is a puzzle box of a film from a major director who has mastered playing to an audience's "thinking" brain and "movie" brain simultaneously in an era when most major directors can only settle for one or the other. Gone Girl transcends the simple labels of "pulp" and "airport novel", and emerges as a completely masterful and enthralling marriage of just about every element of filmmaking.

P.S.: Regarding the quick flash of Affleck penis near the film's end and the conversation already surrounding it: bravo. This is a larger conversation for a more contextual discussion, but I firmly believe that we need to start becoming as comfortable with male nudity in popular entertainment as we are with female nudity. Though it is just that, a quick flash, it's more than we usually see in mainstream film, and it is a fun little offshoot of the film's heavy sexual content but brief actual explicit nudity (a lesson Fincher seems to have learned from the problematic rape and aftermath scenes in his otherwise great Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). The heavy tipping of the scale towards women in nudity in popular entertainment is really reflective of a worrisome problem at the core of American sexuality and sexual psychology where women's sexuality is just on display by default, but men can keep theirs hidden and make it a deeply uncomfortable topic in the public consciousness. I confess that I am a straight male, but I feel no shame in saying: more penises, please.

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