Director: David Fincher
Writers: Gillian Flynn
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike
“You two are the most fucked up people I’ve ever met and I deal with fucked up people for a living.”
I haven’t read Gillian Flynn’s novel “Gone Girl” prior to watching the film. I wish I had done as it might have helped answer many of the questions I had afterwards. Spoiler-free questions like, what did Ben Affleck’s characters actually do that was so wrong (If anything?). What motivated Rosamund Pikes character – The titular “Gone Girl” – to act the way she did and behave like that? Is this a feminist triumph landing a long overdue punch on men or just tired, melodramatic, hysteria ridden nonsense?
I’ll start off by saying I didn’t like this film – Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I’ve seen it as it definitely provokes debate, but it’s a swizz of a debate. We might as well discuss an episode of “Neighbours” for a similar level of academic rigour. Of course it’s really well done -beautifully shot and scored, well-acted and all handled expertly by David Fincher. The problem for me is tonality – It’s all up in the air. By the end of this film you’ll have an underwhelmed sense of bemusement. Just who are you supposed to be rooting for? Who is good? Who is bad? What exactly is the message I’m supposed to be taking away from this?
The first third of this film is easily the best part. Suspense soon starts ratcheting up. As a viewer, you immediately doubt Ben Affleck as the loving doting husband he starts the film as. Could he have really played a part in his wife’s disappearance? More doubt is quickly cast on his actions, more obstacles and problems keep cropping up – Few words spoken and an innocuous smile at the wrong moment makes his appeal for information look sinister. A second seemingly innocent selfie with a concerned, grief junkie neighbour is spun to make him look aloof and removed from his plight.
That plight soon goes national given the fame of his wife – A popular children’s book called “Amazing Amy” is based on her – Imagine J.K. Rowling or “Harry Potter” himself went missing – That’s the media circus Affleck finds himself caught up in. Soon all the talk shows and TV puff pieces chirp up and Affleck is publicly fingered! This guy just can’t get a break, but again you don’t fully emphasise with him for fear that might actually be involved!
The second third sees the story take a whole new approach – Everything you thought you were watching changes. All the suspense, questions and tension evaporates in an instant. Suddenly you need to re-assess and effectively start the whole film again. This probably works wonders in the novel, but in the film it kills it – Or it did for me. It’s too jarring. Fincher manages it well enough, a lesser director wouldn’t, and without spelling out what actually occurs, you then get a completely different set of questions and predicaments thrown at you. Everything was not quite as it first seemed, but the “Affleck as the villain” narrative has firmly been adopted by every Tom, Dick and Harry – He still can’t catch a break, whether he even deserves to or not!
So to try and grasp the nettle, he hires himself a flamboyant defence lawyer (Played surprisingly well by Tyler Perry) and goes on talk shows laying out his case for approval. A Hugh Grant-esque mea culpa here, some heartfelt words there et voila! The narrative changes once again. Suddenly he might not be the utter bastard society says he is, but there are still unanswered questions and fresh puzzles to resolve – Some shockingly and bloodily.
This springs us to the final third and the last tonal shift for the film and the one that poses the most questions! What happens in the first two has some semblance of normality. Though overblown for dramatic purposes you could sense the reality in all of it – We’ve seen this hundreds of times ourselves; Madeline McCann etc. Yet the final third is pure hokum and phooey. In absolutely no rational way does what happen make any sense whatsoever. Any actual real world conclusions that you’d expect (Trials, Arrests, arguments etc.) are brushed away, and we get a crescendo of unanswered “Why did that just happen?”, “Did he really do…?”, “Was she actually…” It’s messy for a Hollywood blockbuster, but even messier for Fincher. Think of the infinitely superb endings of “Se7en”, “Fight Club” and “The Social Network”, all of which come together satisfactorily and spectacularly one way or another. Gone Girl’s is definitely spectacular but for all the wrong reasons.
Perhaps it all makes sense in the book – Which for the record I’m not going to bother to read. Internal monologues and motivations are what separate a novel from a screenplay. In one line you can explain why a character does something. You hear their thoughts. On film you can’t. A good screenplay has to convey a character’s motivations differently – “Show, don’t tell!” Regrettably “Gone girl” just doesn’t do that, perhaps because Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay herself. A little more objectivity and a neutral script editor would have done this film a huge favour. Christ knows what damage she’ll bring to the upcoming American remake of “Utopia”, but it won’t be good based on “Gone Girl”, that’s for certain.
It’s also far too long. As mentioned, the first third is great, but there are at least two opportunities to end the film way before it actually does end. Instead it drags itself out unnecessarily, and leaves the viewer up in the air. Any notion of good or bad is gone, and the only sane and rational characters are the investigative police officer (Gloriously played by Kim Dickens) and the previously mentioned Tyler Perry Lawyer character. They are secondary roles, but are the only ones that work. The A-listers just don’t bring any semblance of credibility to the roles, because the premise and set up doesn’t allow them to.
The box office for this alone shows that this film is a hit, but I just don’t get it. It’s akin to a channel five daytime drama, albeit one that’s beefed up superbly with a great cast and solid direction. But underneath it all, a TV movie is just all that “Gone Girl” is. Don’t believe the hype.