‘Gone Girl’ Review: Benny Got Finchered

Gone Girl Rosamund Pike Ben Affleck 

It’s important to remember that before David Fincher became a director of serious, Oscar-bait films like The Social Network and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button he was a genuinely fun filmmaker. His films were steeped in human misery but took inventive pleasure in wrapping enjoyable stories around all that oppressive cynicism. Fight Club is cruel but delightful. Se7en is depressing but a blast. The Game is dreary but a Hitchcockian thrill, nevertheless.

With Gone Girl, Fincher has stealthily swerved back into airplane novel territory, and the world is better off for it. In some ways it feels like the last few years of soul-searching were just a ruse to get you into this pulpy thriller’s mindset. He lures you in with promises of meaning but traps in you a realm of daft plotting, crazed caricature and absurdly witty twists instead. You thought you were watching an Oscar contender, but he’s so damned slick that you didn’t even realize this was just an MTV Movie Award waiting to happen.

Ben Affleck stars as Nick Dunne, stuck in a miserable marriage to Amy, played by a breathy and alluring Rosamund Pike, who was once America’s sweetheart and the inspiration for a series of best-selling children’s books. He comes home one day to find Amy missing, and the media firestorm gradually catches on, throwing his every failing into grotesque scrutiny. The question becomes how guilty he is, not what really happened, and Amy’s sensitive and funny journal entries give us haunting glimpses into a marriage gone gradually, cruelly wrong.

Gone Girl Ben Affleck

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Gone Girl plays with complex notions about the danger of media exposure but it comes to no more meaningful conclusion than that episode of “The Simpsons” where Homer was accused of sexual harassment after stealing a Gummi Venus. And Gone Girl has dark, despairing ideas about long-term commitment but it brightens them halfway through by abandoning all sense of reality. This is not a “meaningful” movie, it is a lark that takes itself too seriously, and under the assured direction of David Fincher, it’s way more fun that way.

Compare Gone Girl to Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and you’ll find two wildly overproduced potboilers with fascinating heroines. Contrast them and you’ll find that although David Fincher sucked every once of fun from Stieg Larsson’s novel (and Niels Arden Oplev’s original film), he hasn’t made that same mistake twice. The first half of Gone Girl is a moody work of mysterious and impending doom – don’t forget the gloom! – and the second is a whirligig of out there plotting: it’s thrilling and entertaining and wonderfully broad. 

One gets the genuine sense that David Fincher treated the first half of Gone Girl with too much class on purpose, just to highlight how bizarre and pruriently thrilling the second half becomes. It’s tempting to watch it again just to know when you’re allowed to laugh, because for a while, Gillian Flynn’s screenplay (adapted from her own novel) feels nightmarishly oppressive. With subtle palettes and pensive editing that tempts one to look for clues, especially where there are none to be found, Gone Girl gives off the initial impression of a film that may genuinely be important, or at least artistically significant. It captures beautifully and sadly the degradation of a relationship from loving and wholesome to a powder keg of resentment and fear. 

Gone Girl Rosamund Pike

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But the twists – oh, I’ll never tell – are pure trash, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Gone Girl is a work of impressive entertainment, couched in longing glances and dismal regret. A reality we recognize rests uncomfortably over a plot that’s well worth laughing with. Fincher never entirely tips his hand, and he never visibly winks, but by god he will take the grace of Gone Girl’s introduction and bathe in its blood by the end like a vampire orgy on hormone medication.

It’s a technically impeccable, beautifully acted switcheroo, and certainly one of the worthier entries in David Fincher’s recent canon. Gone baby gone, the love is gone, and in its place is a slimy and suspenseful mystery with some of that old mean spirit that made us love David Fincher so much in the first place. 

 

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William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline’s Film Channel and the host of The B-Movies Podcast and The Blue Movies Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.