Tuesday, October 7, 2014

In Theaters: GONE GIRL (2014)

(US - 2014)

Directed by David Fincher. Written by Gillian Flynn. Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Scoot McNairy, David Clennon, Lisa Banes, Emily Ratajkowski, Boyd Holbrook, Lola Kirke, Casey Wilson, Sela A. Ward, Missi Pyle, Jamie McShane. (R, 149 mins)

"You only hurt the one you love" is a saying that's appropriate for David Fincher's version of Gillian Flynn's bestselling 2012 novel. Flynn scripted the adaptation herself, but the end result is very much in line with Fincher's cynical worldview. Over the last 20 years, Fincher has built a reputation as an auteur's auteur, and comparisons to cinema giants like Stanley Kubrick have been made for quite some time. There's no doubt that some of those comparisons are justified, especially in Fincher's mercurial nature and his methodical, meticulous, and sometimes fussy style. He's been known to do an exorbitant amount of takes like Kubrick did, and both display signature styles to ensure their films feel like no one else's. This has been especially the case with Fincher over the last few years, as GONE GIRL marks his third consecutive teaming with score composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, and the fourth overall with Cronenweth, who also shot Fincher's FIGHT CLUB (1999). Over the course of THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010), THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011), and now GONE GIRL, Fincher and that team have forged a unique style in cold, clinical detachment, and perhaps that's where the Kubrick analogies really started to gain traction, though if any comparisons are to be made, he's more in line with the non-fantasy side of David Cronenberg.

While the mere mention of Fincher's name is enough to elevate expectations and get cineastes salivating, his pursuits are generally more commercial than either of those legendary filmmakers, and they exist in different eras that make comparisons a moot point: while Kubrick and Cronenberg also made film versions of wildly popular, bestselling novels (THE SHINING and THE DEAD ZONE, respectively), Kubrick never would've made a film about Facebook. And even as an auteur who's probably given more wiggle room than most of his contemporaries, Fincher still has people he reports to, and with today's "$50 million opening weekend or it's a flop" mindset, there's no way a major Hollywood studio would give Kubrick complete autonomy and a blank check to make whatever he wanted and then leave him unsupervised to take all the time he needed to do it. And Kubrick, while possessing a cynical outlook, pointed his finger mostly at established power structures (the military in PATHS OF GLORY and FULL METAL JACKET, the government in DR. STRANGELOVE, the aristocracy in BARRY LYNDON, the supernatural in THE SHINING, the perverse upper class in EYES WIDE SHUT) and their cruel and frequently dehumanizing nature. Kubrick wasn't quite the misanthrope that Fincher is.  Fincher doesn't like people, he doesn't trust people, and in his world, they're largely inherently unhappy and looking for a way out, and no matter how successful they are and what they achieve, happiness is perpetually elusive. Matt Singer pointed in a pre-release Dissolve piece on GONE GIRL that it's the first Fincher film to put the impossibility of romantic relationships front and center. While GONE GIRL may form a loose stylistic trilogy with the two Fincher films that precede it, it's really not some thinkpiece-worthy truth bomb blowing the doors off the psychology of relationships, misogyny, feminism, and the state of marriage in America.  Anyone who was a child of divorce, saw their parents have a huge argument, has gotten divorced or been around when married friends have a meltdown in a social setting or been in any kind of romantic relationship at all knows that marriage and relationships can be ugly. How many single people have had a married friend tell them "Don't ever get married"? There's certainly room for discussion over its conclusion and the decisions and compromises that certain characters make and the ways they manipulate those around them, but for the bulk of its sometimes bloated two and a half hours, GONE GIRL is a riveting, top-notch thriller by a director at the top of his game. Fincher isn't the second coming of Kubrick.  He's a more stylized, high-end Alan J. Pakula or Sydney Pollack. And that's still pretty great.

Flynn's novel utilized dual unreliable narrators in Nick and Amy Dunne. Flynn keeps structure here but in ways that obviously need to be made cinematic, along with other incidental changes to suit the medium. On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy (Rosamund Pike) disappears and her husband Nick (Ben Affleck) comes home to find their house a shambles, with signs that a struggle ensued. Fincher repeatedly cuts between present, anchored by Affleck, and past, represented in flashbacks with narration by Pike from Amy's journal. She's the daughter of famous children's book authors (David Clennon, Lisa Banes) who based their beloved Amazing Amy character on Amy herself, with Amy constantly feeling like the let-down version of a fictional character who never disappointed her parents and got all the things Actual Amy wanted. In Nick, she finds the first person who understands and accepts her and doesn't want Amazing Amy. But domestic bliss slowly begins to unravel: Nick and Amy lose their jobs in the recession, Nick's mother is diagnosed with cancer and his father with Alzheimer's, the bills aren't getting paid, and Amy's parents get dropped by their publisher and need to use Amy's trust fund to get out of debt. Nick and Amy move from NYC to his childhood Missouri suburb where Amy feels adrift and left out when it comes to Nick and the bond he has with his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon). Tensions escalate in Amy's journal, and in the present, evidence mounts that suggests Nick may have killed his wife. Nick isn't being upfront about numerous things with the cops or with Margo, and then Fincher pulls a daring bait-and-switch at just past the one-hour point that provokes a palpable buzz of energy among the audience and forces you to view everything you've just seen in a completely different fashion.

To say any more would involve divulging massive spoilers, but the performances of Affleck and especially Pike, a very difficult role, are outstanding. They get tremendous support from one of the year's best ensembles, particularly in the unlikely casting of Neil Patrick Harris as one of Amy's ex-boyfriends who's still hung up on her, and Tyler Perry as Nick's lawyer, a big-money celebrity attorney known for defending husbands accused of killing their wives. Coon is excellent, as is Kim Dickens as the increasingly incredulous detective investigating Amy's disappearance. Fincher and Flynn spend quite a bit of time examining the notion of media hype, deftly represented by a shrill, shrieking, over-the-top harpy of a cable news broadcaster (Missi Pyle), clearly based on the loathsome Nancy Grace. They also take aim at the culture of fleeting celebrity and the idea that everything is entertainment. Witness how Nick is accosted by a flirtatious woman who aggressively takes a selfie with him against his wishes, and of course the photo ends up on cable news as "proof" that he's a callous, remorseless wife killer. A bar--called The Bar--owned by Nick and Margo becomes a destination for gawking rubberneckers as Fincher pays subtle homage to Billy Wilder's bile-soaked ACE IN THE HOLE (1951).  Like many filmmakers before him, Fincher has frequently cited Hitchcock as an influence, and that's on display here as Pike's Amy isn't too far removed from the blonde and "complicated" heroines played by Kim Novak in VERTIGO, Janet Leigh in PSYCHO, and Tippi Hedren in MARNIE (Margo: "Nick! Don't you know 'complicated' is code for 'bitch?'"). There's also one fleeting shot where a character hastily exits a room in a way that's identical to "Mother" leaving the motel room after the shower murder in PSYCHO.

Nothing is what it seems in GONE GIRL, and even if you've read the book (I haven't), it works as exemplary storytelling as Fincher punches the narrative forward in the same hypnotic, matter-of-fact fashion he did with his 2007 masterpiece ZODIAC, a damn-near-perfect thriller that opened to great acclaim at the time but for some inexplicable reason, seems to be a lesser-mentioned Fincher film that's fallen through the cracks in just a few short years. It's rare these days to see a provocative adult thriller that gets the audience talking and opens the floor for post-viewing debate. That doesn't necessarily warrant the "deeper meaning" thinkpieces of the sort that seem to permeate review sites and blogs every week (and really, if GONE GIRL hasn't opened this past weekend, we'd be getting similarly pretentious, diarrhetic essays on ANNABELLE), but perhaps the flood of such thinkpieces is actually a damning critique that too few intelligent films for grownups are getting any exposure in the current cinematic climate.

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