Saturday, October 4, 2014

Review: "Gone Girl" is Fincher's Excellently Twisted Take on Morality and Media

Director David Fincher may be the greatest filmmaker of the contemporary American mainstream crime drama. From Se7en to Zodiac and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, he has added a violent joy to tragedy. It is voyeuristic and, as he progressed, more artistic. He is a filmmaker of uncompromising talent by turning crime scenes into allegorical theories on human existence. In the case of Gone Girl, he explores the sick fascination with mental illness and essentially lying to the camera. It is a film that seems straightforward at first, but by the closing credits, the unnerving sense of happiness only makes things creepier. What Fincher has done was created probably his most twisted, unexpected, pulpy film to date, and it works more often than not.

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) wakes up on July 5, 2012 to start an ordinary day. However, when he returns home to find his wife Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) missing, things begin to spiral. Campaigns begin to get raised and Nick gets accused of murder. It is a spectacle that is never ending. When paired with the eerie tonal simplicity of the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, it feels like an exploration of the soul. As flashbacks begin to pop up via Amy's diary, the picture begins to look more different. Without spoiling anything, the diary is only the first step in a long line of reveals that indicate that maybe Amy is just as at fault as her husband in a bitter relationship of five years. By the halfway mark, it isn't so much about if Nick killed Amy, but the media's obsession with turning personal grievances into top news stories as seen by 10 million people.

Even if the film opens on a very clinical note, it slowly delves into a trashy personality. With consistent profanity and a couple affairs, there's a sexual tension underlining a lot of the situations. There isn't a strong understanding of why Amy decided to go missing at this specific point, but there's enough presumption. Her writing in the diary is so strong that its empathetic angle works. Nick is the villain until Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) steps in and helps him out. Soon, it is  matter of playing to the camera. How does Nick find Amy when people are convinced that they hated each other? It isn't so easy. Much like Amy throughout the story, it is all about conning people and putting on disguises to pass the bar. In the case of Amy, there's occasional trips into sadistic territory where bad tastes is her only tool.


Most of all, the adaptation of Gillian Flynn's eponymous novel challenges other notions. On top of the media's growing obsession with tragedy, the film chooses to question a different kind of manipulation involving rape. In a few instances, Amy uses rape by convincingly self-mutilating herself to fit the stereotype. She keeps painting herself as the victim in order to get out of situations. It has left a few men with tattered careers that will never be able to live innocent lives again. When Amy finally arrives to Nick's house all bloodied up after staging a rape with Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris) that ended with his throat slit, the comforting welcomes are met with the cries of Nick calling her a bitch. She plays to the cameras that have been sitting outside Nick's house, ruining his life. Yet all that Nick can do is play along and hopefully not land in similar fate.

It is a fascinating subject that I don't care to address here. However, it should be one that raises a lot of questions. With rape culture being appropriately negative in American culture, is it all right to fake it simply to get what you want? Amy's childhood was met with her parents literally writing her future in a book series called Amazing Amy. She is a local hero. Amy has issues with perception and easily uses it to get her way. As her parents played with her life in a more innocent way, she chooses to use that fame for evil. As much as Nick claims to watch reality TV, nothing is quite as shocking as the actions of Amy, who at one point considered drowning herself to perfect the murder angle. 

If there's any revelation from the film, it is Rosamund Pike. While she has been kicking around in smaller films like The Worlds End, she really commits to a polarizing role here. Where the male is usually a psychopath, Pike plays Amy with a discomforting dedication. She is cool and secretive while dodging traps. After the film shifts from raising a stink about Nick to Amy's choice to skip town, the film gets a whole lot interesting. She is so assured that it is believable that she can neuter Nick's masculinity by the end of the film. It may be an allegory for marriage, but Pike makes it about so much more. It is about a woman who wants too much and knows how to get it all. She can take down a few people and not care at all. 


If there's any fault with the film, it is that Fincher's technique is familiar. It does seem like he is trying to play against type with this film by making an unappealing set of opening credits. In fact, Reznor and Ross' score seems to be more muted and simple. The whole production feels softer, as if it is an adversary attempting Fincher-esque camer work. The one benefit is that the performance push the unrelenting subject matter into disturbing places and the metaphorical contexts feel prevalent. Even then, this is Fincher doing a crime drama that has the recommended twists and turns. It isn't his best, but thanks to great performances by Pike and Affleck, there's some weight in the drama, especially in the third act.

Gone Girl is a film that manages to question appearances in shocking and exciting ways. While it explores it with controversial topics, it does feel like it is done in the tasteful mindset of the characters and their trashy behaviors. Sure, the Dunne marriage was always doomed, but how it progresses makes it a very inventive story that is unfortunately too clinical to be entirely gripping. It works enough to be enjoyable and it makes sense why Fincher would do it. However, it does drag on at points and once Amy's story hits a few key moments, the shock is gone. All that is left is Fincher's Natural Born Killers: a story of how the media and tragedy have a sick relationship with one another and we're all to blame.

Ben Affleck
I know that this will sound ludicrous, but I believe it. Gone Girl will not be a strong contender at the Oscars. Why? Because when David Fincher does a crime film, it has never gotten a Best Picture nomination. While this is lead by Ben Affleck (who directed 2012's Best Picture winner Argo) and the prestige is higher, the film just has too much of a trashy undertone to really appeal to voters. Also, the general subject matter is handled in a very off putting way. Fincher does a really solid job, but unless the race turns out to be more dour than expected, Gone Girl is going to be forgotten in a lot of major ways when awards season gets around.

For those who need a bigger clue, simply look at The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Of course, that film was polarizing and played better into the pulpy sensibilities. It managed to nab Rooney Mara a Best Actress nomination and a Best Editing trophy, but it missed out in the main category. While it is a more stylized take on crime dramas involving dark subjects such as rape, sexism, and murder, it seems indicative of why Gone Girl will not make too many splashes. The Academy loves challenging films, but not ones that are a little off putting in their approach. Considering how Zero Dark Thirty failed to win a lot of trophies at the Oscars because of controversy, Gone Girl will at best raise discussion on spousal abuse and become a dangerous film in that way. It may get a Best Picture nomination, but that's only because there's a 5-10 sliding scale.

The only lock that I will consider at this point is Rosamund Pike for Best Actress. When her performance is seen, it is easily one of the most memorable of the year in either sex. While it does feel similar to Side Effects, it takes it to uncomfortable new places. Speaking as she's self-deprecating in the process, her courage will be seen as an attribute and her place as a female psychopath will probably help to shoot her into one of the iconic crazy women roles of this decade. There isn't much to go off of, but considering that Fincher's films have been reliable for at least one acting nomination each, this seems like a lock. Will she win? It's too early to tell.

I still recommend Gone Girl despite my dismay at its Oscar chances. It may feel like a tweaked Fincher film, but its messages and acting are as great as ever. The progression is a little clunky, but with Pike and Affleck trying to vie for your sympathy vote, there's a lot about this film to like. Maybe the concepts outweigh the momentum, but the film feels important in ways that few actually do. It may end up being known more for controversy than actual substance, but it feels rather authentic. It is lively, funny, and darkly sexual. It will stay with you, leaving you to question morality well after you've left the theater.

Will Gone Girl get a Best Picture nomination? Is there any actress who has released a film so far in 2014 that is more deserving of a Best Actress nomination than Rosamund Pike? Does the Academy feel comfortable giving awards to films with controversial or trashy subject matters?

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