October 21st 2014 04:27
For a second straight film, director David Fincher has taken on the task of condensing a mass market crime fiction bestseller for the big screen. After his proficient but neutered-by-familiarity take on the overexposed Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) comes a cinematic translation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (2014). With a massive in-built audience, as it were, in the legion of readers who’ve long devoured the original source and no doubt hold it sacred, the real challenge for Fincher would be in imbuing the final product with artistic credibility by making a film that forms a bridge between the cinemaplex and the arthouse.
When Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) vanished, suspicion naturally falls on him as the last to have seen her. Rapidly the case expands, reaching national airwaves and Nick becomes public enemy number one. The two chief detectives on the case (Kim Dickens) and (Patrick Fugit) seem to make the same presumptions that we do: Nick is guilty and the details of how he got away with the crime will be what spark and hold our interest as the narrative unwinds. But predictable in its unpredictability, layers of guilt and deception are peeled back as the truth, naturally, defies both our simple initial assumptions and any real world logic.
Thematic failings notwithstanding, with unrelenting bleakness Fincher and Flynn – adapting her own book for the screen - expose the paradoxes of a marriage: from the fissures arise contrary narratives. Each is coloured with intriguing strands of ambiguous grey, leaving us in a quandary as to who to empathise with. The requisite introduction of shifts in tone and perspective only make the final scenes murkier in their delineation.
Affleck’s work here is solid without being striking. Under duress, Nick turns to internal coping mechanisms with only his sister Margo (an excellent Carrie Coon) as an ally. As the beleaguered wife Pike is not nearly as sympathetic. There’s something ‘off’ about Amy from the get-go - an icy aloofness that colours both her narration and interactions with others. Pike’s performance is faultless yet is there a genuine, identifiable human emotion or motive attributable to her?
Fincher’s slick visuals are in line with his past work: expressive blues, blacks with nary a flicker of sunshine. There’s real mastery in his now very familiar manipulation, in the way the cool, darkened palette reflects back, uncompromisingly, the internal psychological states of his characters. One problematic choice, however, is his utilisation, for a third successive film, of the music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Often tediously distracting, their score, at times, borders on inappropriate, especially in the final stretch when monotonous dreamy synth textures are used to create a sense of mounting unease, yet without any flair or instinct for capitalising on Fincher’s deep focus gaze.
Flynn’s twisty narrative, in a peripheral manner, exposes the gluttonous press and their obsessive preoccupation with breaking news stories. We're shown the invasive scrutiny they afford the scandal of the day and equally, the manner in which they skew a story on a whim to revive a lagging pace. But there’s nothing in the way of fresh insights here. An innocent man despises the press, we know that. Especially when he’s no longer innocent.
Though there are classy contributions all round, Fincher's film feels slightly hollow at its core, with its bleak portrait of domesticity and the fairer sex in particular hitting a sallow note. In Gone Girl, redemption is a cold-hearted concept unable to grip in a world in which, the final act seems to say, attempts at extraction from difficult situations only leads to reinforced incarceration.