If there was ever a modern Hitchcock, it’s Mister David Fincher. No other working filmmaker seems as obsessed with the darker sides of human nature as the 52-year-old director. From sociopaths to psychopaths, he has found a way to craft films that unnerve and unhinge you while simultaneously being beautiful, glossy and entertaining pieces of cinema. His latest, Gone Girl, is just as dark, twisted and malicious as his earlier work. And like his previous films, it’s also rather brilliant.
Based on the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl is the third and final instalment in a literary crime saga that follows different characters, different crimes and different time periods. It sees all-round ‘nice guy’ and accidental idiot Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) come under the spotlight of a police investigation after his seemingly perfect wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) goes missing under suspicious circumstances. As Detectives Rhonda Boney ( Kim Dickens) and Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) begin to unravel the mystery, it turn out to be more complicated than the once open and shut case they thought it was. On the other side of the fence, Nick and his twin sister Go (Carrie Coon) are trying to prove his innocence with the help of notorious lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) while simultaneously dodging his own dangerous secrets.
The novel is a multi-layered piece of brilliant crime writing and the weakest of Flynn’s three superb novels, but it’s easy to see why this particularly text appealed to Fincher over the others (Sharp Objects and Dark Places). Put simply, it’s the most complicated. It’s a tale that leads you deep down the rabbit hole and he’s done a dazzling job of making sure it doesn’t cave in on the audience as he continues to excavate his way deeper and deeper down. It’s a babushka doll of a film, with three genres in one: there’s the Romance as we see Nick and Amy’s origin story; there’s the Crime Drama as Nick becomes the target of intense media scrutiny during the the investigation; and there’s the Thriller complete with bloody murder as we see the flipped side of the coin. To not only create those three mini-films but layer them together seamlessly is a task only a filmmaker of Fincher’s experience and skill could be up to. Flynn’s involvement as the sole screenwriter clearly helps, with her able to translate the tale to the big screen without losing any of the originality or impact.
The fine direction and cinematography by Fincher regular Jeff Cronenweth is matched only by the superb casting and the performances garnered from that. Affleck in the lead is a strategic move, with the Oscar-winner and former Mr J.Lo clearly someone familiar with the sensation of having the tide of public opinion turn on him. It’s a knowing, wink-at-the-audience in-joke that could have so easily gone wrong if it wasn’t for his masterful delivery. Better known as a celebrated director these days, Affleck has the rare opportunity to play an anti-hero on screen. So often the leading man good guy or charming romantic hero, Nick Dune is a character that sees him turn all his natural charms against the viewers in an awards season worthy turn. His leading lady Pike is just as strong, giving the performance of her career so far. She’s an immensely talented actress who has more range than the period drama or token lone female roles she has been designated over the past few years. For many, her performance is a revelation and it’s hard to imagine Reese Witherspoon even coming close to Pike’s delivery (Witherspoon originally signed on to produce and star in the film, but settled for producing after scheduling conflicts).
It seems Gone Girl is the movie for shifting types, as the usually comedic and cross-dressing Perry is powerful as the hard-hitting and intelligent Tanner Bolt, while Neil Patrick Harris manages the reverse and brings a significant ‘ick’ factor as Amy’s ex-boyfriend Desi Collins. Keep an eye on Carrie Coon as Go, who is witty and understated and someone who is going places a la Elisabeth Moss. For lovers of great television like Friday Night Lights and Sons Of Anarchy it’s gratifying to have Dickens not only be given a meaty leading part, but ace the performance. The always impressive Scoot McNairy pops up briefly, and Missi Pyle nails the role she was born to play: Southern bitch Fox news anchor.
Two other Fincher regulars – composers Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor – also return for their third movie with the master after The Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. It’s their most experimental score yet but like the previous two films fits flawlessly into the narrative while at the same time enhancing the atmosphere. The end result is a lasting, creepy and deeply affecting film that will be an enhanced experience for people who haven’t read the book and therefore won’t see the twists and beat changes coming. It’s a simpler, more domestic story than most of Fincher’s previous films yet he manages to turn it into something sweeping and epic. It’s a psychological horror film as much as it is a crime thriller and he manages to juggle both in a truly Hitchcockian fashion, while keeping the audience on the edge of their seats.
David Fincher is the king of unsettling cinema. He’s an architect of dread and he manages to build something so entirely creepy and disturbing with Gone Girl that it makes Se7en feel like The Notebook. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are his partners in crime – quite literally – and their performances should generate deserved awards season buzz.
Gone Girl Trailer:
Maria Lewis – follow Maria on Twitter here: @moviemazz or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.