Friday, September 26, 2014
[A disclaimer: Though I saw Gone Girl at an Atlanta press screening, I'm posting it alongside the rest of my coverage of the New York Film Festival since it is tonight's opening night gala selection. It opens in theaters across the country Friday, October 3rd.]
Among director David Fincher's movies, Gone Girl might end up ranking as well executed a puzzle film as The Game. It sounds like a simple statement, but there's a lot to unpack in it. Like The Game, Gone Girl is excellent, trashy fun; no more, no less. It's hard to see how Gone Girl, based on Gillian Flynn's bestseller, will have much of a chance for any major awards outside of the technical categories with one glaring exception, Rosamund Pike, whose part here is star-making. More on that later. As in Fight Club, Gone Girl is so dependent on its plot intricacies that one can't write much about it without giving something away. So trust me. This review will tread carefully. Finally, even for those who have read the novel, Fincher constructs Gone Girl in such a way that, like Zodiac, and again Fight Club and The Game, multiple viewings shall yield more and more rewards for the viewer.
Those rewards start with Pike's luminous performance as Amy Elliott-Dunne. Using a parallel storyline structure, Fincher and Flynn make Amy herself the mystery to be investigated. Pike is both alluring and frustratingly remote. The primary concern with Amy's disappearance on the day of her 5th wedding anniversary is not Gone Girl's only inquest into the enigmatic woman. Gone Girl is also an examination of her persona as communicated in a second narrative delivered by Amy herself in the form of a diary that describes her complicated relationship to Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) from the day they met, through to their marriage, and up until the final day before her disappearance. Amy is a kind of blank slate onto which Nick, his sister Margo (Carrie Coon), friends, neighbors and, eventually, the "tragedy groupies" can all project their own opinions of who she is. And Pike is able to keep up with all of the, at times, wildly varied characterizations of the missing woman. The Amy we get to know most is the one she depicts in her diary, a sparkling young writer whose potential is quashed by the recession, the way it affects Nick, a working writer who is himself laid off, and their reluctant move from a gleaming Manhattan to the humdrum North Carthage, Missouri suburbs where Nick grew up.
Like with a good number of his other films' protagonists, it is easy to see why Fincher may identify with a cold fish like Nick. Affleck's limited performance range is utilized to sketch out a husband who, at best, seems annoyed by the intrusion of this catastrophic event in his life. At worst, there is the consideration made by Detectives Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) that the husband did it. Because the husband always does it, an assumption made by a frightening media circus led by the Nancy Grace-like Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle) that plagues Nick every day thereafter. On a smaller scale, Fincher has himself had to bat away accusations of his dispassionate approach to his movies. Often accused of being calculating, clinical and emotionless, Fincher seems to be holding up Nick as a kind of mouthpiece for himself, in much the same way that he used Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network or Edward Norton's unnamed narrator in Fight Club. The director presents us Nick as a whipping boy whose behavior is completely authentic, admittedly unlikable and therefore undeniably suspicious.
Within the confines of Flynn's adaptation, Fincher finds small details to focus on that illuminate Gone Girl and its characters. Detective Boney's rather ordinary initial interrogation of Nick under fluorescent lights in her precinct office doesn't seem like much when you are focused on Affleck and Dickens's faces. But the hands reveal something more. Nick's are twitchy and occasionally reach out. Boney uses hers to cover her notepad the way a child would when taking an exam. A few times later on, Nick's vibrating cell phone prompts him to pull it out of his pocket only long enough to see who's calling and rarely to answer that call, a sure sign that there are secretive parts to Nick that Fincher is in no hurry to reveal.
Fincher fills out the rest of the film with a supporting cast one sees on TV more often than movie screens. Fine actors like Lisa Banes, David Clennon, and Neil Patrick Harris are suitably unremarkable because of the position they occupy in Nick and Amy's colorless marriage. It isn't until Nick must contend with the aftermath of Amy's disappearance that flashier personalities like Tyler Perry (as Nick's attorney Tanner Bolt) start to make more significant an impression. But that is all very appropriate considering the central conceit of Gone Girl. Marriage is a dual storyline, a perplexing mystery so shielded from outsiders that only its two participants can narrate them. Who has any chance to uncover its truths if both narrators are so unreliable?
Gone Girl opens the 52nd New York Film Festival tonight at 6 pm and 9 pm at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, 1941 Broadway (at 65th Street), New York, NY 10023; 6:45 pm and 9:45 pm at the Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center's Howard Gilman Theater, 144 West 65th St (south side between Broadway and Amsterdam), New York, NY 10023; 9:15 pm and 11:59 pm at the Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th St (north side between Broadway and Amsterdam, upper level), New York, NY 10023; and 9:30 pm at the Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center's Francesca Beale Theater, 144 West 65th St (south side between Broadway and Amsterdam), New York, NY 10023. For ticket information go online here, or call CenterCharge at (212) 721-6500.