6 October 2014

Review: GONE GIRL

This review is spoiler-free- I hadn't read the book going in, so I'm only going to write about the film, giving away as little of the plot as I can.

October usually sees running times expand substantially on the road to awards season. Some filmmakers seem to forget that a story can be told in 90 minutes if it's worthy of a 150 minute epic. Not that you'd notice with David Fincher's Gone Girl, a film that is deliberately measured and meticulous in pace, but still so exciting in its mystery as to fly to the threshold of that two-and-a-half-hour running time.

Gillian Flynn has adapted the script from her own novel, about a man whose life is turned upside down when his wife's disappearance causes a media circus. Writer Nick Dunne is happily married to Amy Elliot, the daughter of two doting children's authors, but the honeymoon period ends abruptly when they both lose their jobs and move from New York to Missouri. One day, Amy goes missing, with signs of a violent struggle at the couple's home, and the subsequent media coverage of Nick leaves no detail of his life and marriage uncovered.

As in the novel, the story unfolds from two perspectives. The primary narrative follows Nick's confusion and turmoil in the present, while the second dramatises a diary written by Amy, charting their marriage from the swoony, ideal courtship to a steep decline. The unreliable narrators are out in force and as a result, the world feels lived in. We're not getting expository blasts to explain why the Stepford-like Amy sees Nick as violently resentful of her, or why dozy everyman Nick's twin sister Margo sees "Amazing Amy" as something of a bitch. Fincher and Flynn revel in not telling the audience everything all at once.

Every twist in the tale, no matter how big or small, is aimed with pinpoint precision to keep the plot as opaque as possible, for as long as possible. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike both excel in their roles, building irresistible chemistry together for their characters' public face ("We're so cute I wanna punch us in the face", purrs Amy) and then plumbing their hidden depths for all they're worth. The spoiler for future generations may be that at least one of them will probably (and definitely deserves to) win every acting award from here to February, because they're an immediate all-time great screen villain, delivering an even bigger punch as they emerge from behind the film's obstructed view.

The supporting characters orbit around the main story but lend just as much weight. Carrie Coon is invaluable as Margo, because she's the closest thing we ever get to an audience identification figure, uncovering most of the story's secrets at the same time as the viewer does and reacting with deeply exasperated emotion anger at every turn. Tyler Perry is legitimately better than he has ever been on screen as a lawyer who is described as "the patron saint of wife killers" and Neil Patrick Harris memorably strikes against type in a distraught turn as an old flame of Amy's.

Second to the central mystery is a scathing indictment of how rolling news covers these cases, wherein Nick, as the least telegenic victim imaginable, is basically tried in the national media by scumbag cable news pundits. There's more than a little hypocrisy in 20th Century Fox releasing the film, given how Rupert Murdoch's news division is the main target of the satire, but then they also released Fincher's Fight Club, which raged and thrashed against the corporate culture in which Fox thrives. The real cops investigating the case provide a fun contrast too- Kim Dickens' chief investigator is even-handed and wise, while Patrick Fugit's sidekick seems to take aboard every media prejudice as evidence, to amusing effect.

You would think that comic relief would be quite scant, but Fincher, ever the mischief-maker, has made this into the blackest comedy imaginable. The plot is unbelievable, maybe, and shocking, certainly, but the outrageous quality is almost funny, as underlined by Perry's character. It's incredibly dry, but there are points after the huge mid-point twist in the story where it's pretty difficult not to laugh at how outrageous it really is. There's plenty of gravitas in the way that it actually plays out, but this may be the most shared and liked Huffington Post story that never actually happened.

Gone Girl is a worthy start to the awards season, and if I were David Fincher, Ben Affleck or Rosamund Pike and I didn't win an Oscar for this, I would take it personally. It's incredibly cynical but never pretentious, thanks to a nigh-on miraculous tandem of Gillian Flynn's script, Fincher's direction and a routinely superb cast. Its refusal to spoon-feed the audience pays off magnificently, with every bit of new information propelling the audience deeper into this nasty, fucked-up tale. Even if it doesn't turn out to be the best film of the year, it is destined to be the most discussed.

Gone Girl is now showing at cinemas nationwide.
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If you've seen Gone Girl, why not share your comments below? No spoilers please, I'm really quite chuffed at how I handled this one...

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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