David Fincher’s Gone Girl was the Opening Night film at the 52nd New York Film Festival, and is now in wide release.
Anyone could see from the elaborate run-up to the release of Gone Girl that this Gillian Flynn adaptation might provoke a variety of interpretations, but perhaps the most palpable discrepancy arises out of the filmmaker himself. To judge from Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and his latest, David Fincher believes he is crafting demonically clever and attuned anatomies (or postmortems) of complex contemporary relationships, all through that most respectable of mediums, the disreputable thriller. Of Gone Girl, he’s spoken in interviews especially eloquently of the promises and wagers of marriage and the ferocious intrusion of lived emotional reality, setting up the film’s missing-person suspense as a scary but often comically macabre embodiment of that fraught bond.
But in its dully paranoid revenge scenario in Main Street USA, Gone Girl consistently postures at being more clever than it actually is.
In the story’s dual telling, Nick (Ben Affleck) seems oddly unmoved when faced with the apparently violent disappearance of his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), from the house they can’t afford; her own journey is recounted in alternating sequences, but the convergence grows only more disappointing rather than intriguing. Fincher’s hitching the film to Nick’s experience whilst shading Amy’s self-conscious side as melodramatic confessional (even with Pike’s diligently cool characterization) builds a blind spot into the film which renders its plumbing of harsh truths behind dark urges something of a nonstarter.
Gone Girl does offer the spectacle of utter self-assurance in its visual craft, with Fincher finding new ways to stage scenes that feel familiar from countless film noirs (which had the virtue of compactness). It’s also fascinating to watch how contemplating wealth and class can sometimes galvanize (The Social Network) and other times short-circuit Fincher’s narrative brain (cf. his compulsion with creating and shattering fantasies of absolute control, most obviously in Panic Room and The Game). But as baroquely demonstrated in his high-water mark Zodiac, Fincher’s interest in the dispersal of information and unspooling of a tale appear to inspire him at times more than his characters, hence the focus on Nick’s attempt to manage his public image with his lawyer (Tyler Perry) in the face of mounting outrage. Competing stories, indeed, but for Fincher, it might just be that nobody wins.