In what can only be ranked as a flat-out, unconditional rave, Justin Chang reviews David Fincher’s Gone Girl for Variety.
A lady vanishes and is soon presumed dead, but it’s her marriage that winds up on the autopsy table in “Gone Girl,” David Fincher’s intricate and richly satisfying adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s 2012 mystery novel. Surgically precise, grimly funny and entirely mesmerizing over the course of its swift 149-minute running time, this taut yet expansive psychological thriller represents an exceptional pairing of filmmaker and material, fully expressing Fincher’s cynicism about the information age and his abiding fascination with the terror and violence lurking beneath the surfaces of contemporary American life. Graced with a mordant wit as dry and chilled as a good Chablis, as well as outstanding performances from Ben Affleck and a revelatory Rosamund Pike, Fox’s Oct. 3 wide release should push past its preordained Oscar-contender status to galvanize the mainstream.
After the perceived commercial disappointment of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (2011), despite an eventual worldwide haul of more than $230 million, Fincher’s latest R-rated, two-and-a-half-hour screen version of a phenomenally successful potboiler will have an easier time translating its considerable pedigree, critical plaudits and awards-season hype into must-see status. It helps that the director is working on a significantly lower budget this time around (about $50 million), from a novel that has neither steeped too long in the public consciousness nor spawned any prior movies. It also helps that “Gone Girl,” unlike “Dragon Tattoo,” registers as more than just a technically immaculate, dramatically superfluous exercise in style.
Making an impressive screenwriting debut (with adaptations of her two other novels in the works), Flynn has ruthlessly streamlined but not materially altered her story, fully retaining its bifurcated, time-shuffling structure and elaborate, spoiler-susceptible twists. (To preserve the purity of the experience, read no further.) The sheer complexity of the narrative finds an ideal interpreter in Fincher, who boasts one of cinema’s great forensic minds, and dissects the marriage of Nick and Amy Dunn (Affleck and Pike) with the same clinical precision and eye for minutiae he wielded in his serial-killer procedurals “Seven” and “Zodiac.” Together, he and Flynn spin this study of a troubled relationship into an extreme portrait of matrimonial hell, as well as a stark metaphor for just how little we may know or trust our so-called better halves…
[More at Variety, if spoilers are not an issue for you.]
>”Fincher is by now well versed in the art of misdirection, and his control of this material is assured and absolute. This is hardly the first time he’s forced us to question what we’re seeing and through whose eyes we’re seeing it (“Fight Club”), or examined the media’s tendency to distort and amplify paranoia (“Zodiac”), or juggled parallel time frames and dueling perspectives so as to complicate our sense of the truth (“The Social Network”). But what makes “Gone Girl” so particularly potent — and such an appropriate match for this filmmaker’s icy view of the human condition — is its deliciously cynical attitude toward the relationship at its core; its sly awareness of the thin line between love and hate, happiness and misery; and its skill at laying bare the cruel, manipulative behavioral patterns that spouses can lapse into over time…
…as its title suggests, “Gone Girl” belongs to its leading lady. Pike is the sort of elegantly composed blonde beauty with whom Hitchcock would have had a field day, and some may well quibble that the actress’s cool British hauteur doesn’t fully capture Amy’s America’s-sweetheart side. Yet as evidenced by her years of solid supporting work, she also possesses the sort of ferocious charisma that magnetizes the screen, and it’s a thrill to watch her fully embrace the showiest, most substantial role of her career. Hers is the low, seductive voice we hear coaxing us through the story’s early passages, and hers is the character who ultimately exhibits the most dynamic range: In any given scene, her Amy can seem vulnerable, aggrieved, calculating, heroic, overmatched, viperous and terrifying.
As ever, Fincher’s behind-the-scenes collaborators turn in work of an exceptionally high standard. His camera unerringly well placed in every scene, d.p. Jeff Cronenweth brings a drab, underlit look to the Dunnes’ McMansion, the police station and other North Carthage locations (actually Cape Girardeau, Mo.), suitably nondescript in Donald Graham Burt’s production design. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, whose moody electronic compositions have become synonymous with the director’s work, once again devise a soundscape that all but pulses with dread, this time by lacing more traditional orchestral fare with their trademark synths.
Working without his usual partner Angus Wall (with whom he won Oscars for “The Social Network” and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”), editor Kirk Baxter cuts the picture to within an inch of its life while still allowing individual scenes and the overall structure to breathe; this is a movie you sink into even when you’re on the edge of your seat. Particularly fraught, violent moments are heightened by quick fade-ins and fade-outs, a hallucinatory effect that registers as palpably as a shudder.