I started writing film reviews on this blog with The Prime of MIss Jean Brodie; a still-odd choice for me, because I tend to be a more modernist film critic, and less about the past... and because that film is really, really dark. And I at least try to cover up my love of really dark, really messed up entertainment. Not necessarily successfully.
So it's probably appropriate to attempt a return to form with Gone Girl, last year's easy winner in the messed up (or, for the less refined, f*cked-up) film category. Nobody's idea of a date movie, Gone GIrl arrived as the adaptation of a monster bestseller, hinged on the selling point that you, dear reader, had no idea of the astonishing twist the narrative would take.
On that selling point alone, I bought the book ...and promptly failed to read it. For years. The book would taunt me. I'd see others reading it; I would ask and to a person they said it was amazing, and the twist was unexpected... and it couldn't be shared. So naturally, I waited for the film adaptation.
The film version does not disappoint, either. Director David Fincher has brilliantly realized Gone Girl both as a tasty, chilling thriller, but also as a deeply subversive, equally chilly dismissal of current pop culture, of true crime "journalism," celebrity obsession, and the way we reward the showy, the glib, and the insincere. This is not the film to tell you that things get better, or to simply root for the good guy and truth will prevail in the end. If you want a light, upbeat tale of true love... this film is not for you.
The film starts quietly, simply: Nick Dunne is a nice guy on the day of his 5th wedding anniversary to Amy, when she disappears under mysterious circumstances. As we unpack the mystery, we learn more about Nick, Amy, and what seems to be a beautiful relationship put under stress by the economy, and the tensions of two people maybe growing apart.
Things get more complicated as a series of revelations suggest that Nick is not the simple, concerned spouse he seems - there's an affair, some curious financial doings, and more. Also Amy has layers of complexity hinted at from the beginning - there's her complicated relationship with her parents, author of a series of books whose child heroine, "Amazing Amy," is an idealized version of the real woman. Amy's diary seems to suggest an uncertainty about her life and her marriage that only adds more questions. And still, no one seems to quite know what happened or where she is.
That's where the twist comes in, and it's a doozy, a moment, rare in fiction these days, where all that's come before is simply turned on its head. It's here that Gone Girl becomes more than a simple whodunnit, to a dark examination of roles and expectations for men and women, and how easy it is for us to simply believe what we see, what we are told. Gillian Flynn, who wrote the book, also handles the adaptation to film, and she has a real sense for the old adage about "show, don't tell" - there's a lovely economy of actual dialogue, a trust that we will see for ourselves what is actually unfolding.
Davids Fincher's been on this kind of kick for years, but I think Gone Girl may be his best effort yet at adapting a novel to film, while still preserving his own icy, subversive worldview. He's not afraid to explore darkness and true madness (as with, say Se7en, or the Girl with The Dragon Tattoo), buit there's a quality to Gone Girl that seems lighter, playful; Fincher seems better able to deploy sarcasm that sees the sarcastic humor of it all.
And of course, he's helped immensely by a superb cast. Ben Affleck has labored for years against that certain lunky presence he brings to film, and Gone Girl, well, wallows in just that. As he shambles, as he gets caught in a carefully spun web, you can see the mix of decency and loutishness, the guy who wants to be good... ish.
Then there's Rosamund Pike as Amy, beautiful, tightly coiled, as enigmatic as the greatest screen beauties (Gene Tierney's Laura comes most obviously to mind... but so many others as well) and every bit as dangerous. Pike does a remarkable job of making a highly improbable character real, complex, and fascinating. And even dangerously amusing.
The rest of the cast is similarly focused and effective - perhaps none so much as Neil Patrick Harris, as Amy's most dangerous ex; but one has to shout out Tyler Perry as an over the top cross of Johnny Cochran and... well, Tyler Perry, as a well known, wily lawyer. Who's probably the closest thing the film has to a purely good guy.
Nothing is simple in Gone Girl, and the remarkable thing, I think, is how this film found an audience of enough sophisticates to actually be a success. Dark, defiant, and deadly, Gone Girl doesn't celebrate America's greatness, or wallow in our culture's false sorrows. Instead, it says that behind the most glowing successes is a pretty dark, messed up interior. And I for one, thinks that notion captures us pretty damn well.