‘Gone Girl’ Is Perfect First Date Movie — Well Sort Of
Director David Fincher And Writer Gillian Flynn Are Perfect Pair To Bring Bestseller To The Screen
Friday, October 3, 2014
Credit: 20th Century Fox
KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews "Gone Girl."
“Gone Girl” (opening Oct. 3 throughout San Diego) was a New York Times bestseller before author Gillian Flynn adapted it to the screen. It examines long-term relationships but from a fresh perspective.
“Gone Girl” opens with a man looking at his wife’s head and telling us how he ponders opening her skull, unspooling her brain and sifting through it to try to figure out what she’s thinking. Many people may have similar thoughts as they try to unravel the mystery of a spouse or loved one. At some point or other we’ve all probably felt unable to fathom the thoughts or emotions of someone close to us. Those are normal feelings. But for Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike), what appears to be normal eventually unravels to reveal something much darker.
The film serves up a fragmented tale delivered by a pair of unreliable narrators. So we travel back and forth in time as well as shifting between Nick and Amy as our storytellers. They appear to be a perfect couple — beautiful, in love, successful — and then Amy vanishes. Nick comes home to find signs of a struggle and no wife. He calls the police, and as details emerge Nick finds himself more and more implicated in his wife’s disappearance.
If you’ve read the book, then you know the twists and turns that unfold, and if you haven’t then you shouldn’t know anything else. I love a film with unreliable narrators. “Memento” is a classic example in which Guy Pearce is a man with no short-term memory who is trying to unravel a murder mystery. And Fincher’s own “Fight Club” gives us a narrator who is insane. What is great about these films is how they play with audience expectations. Audiences can be gullible because they have been trained to believe the first person narrator of a story. But in “Gone Girl” we have people who are not being honest with us and who have things to hide.
“Fight Club” (1999)
Because of this, David Fincher proves the perfect director to bring Gillian Flynn’s bestseller to the screen. Fincher has a knack for endowing films with a pervasive sense of unease and for making us doubt what we see on the surface.
Take a flashback to the couple’s first meeting. On the surface it is a perfect kind of Hollywood meet-cute scenario. The couple is at a party, Nick is attracted to Amy. He attempts to pick her up, and they exchange some cute banter that results in them getting together. That’s the surface. But Fincher imbues that scene with a sense of foreboding rather than playing up any of the potential rom-com cuteness. He achieves this through his direction that slows down the clever repartee and gives us a visual look that’s just a tad darker than we might expect.
But the kicker is the music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross that is subtly disquieting. It’s almost like an ambient track that never really jumps out at you yet is continually coloring the tone of the film and building tension.
“Gone Girl” is a deliciously disturbing thriller that holds you rapt. It’s also a great example of how to create female characters. Flynn adapts her own novel and has created a story in which women drive this plot but not in ways you’d expect.
I hate films that shove female role models on us as if that’s a way to improve opportunities for actresses. What I want to see is an interesting diversity of parts for women and films in which women drive the stories. I get both in “Gone Girl.”
Whether it’s Amy trying to control a relationship or a detective trying to maintain a meticulous investigation amidst a media frenzy or a TV anchor vilifying Nick to turn him into a suspect or just a woman at a hotel manipulating some guy to do her bidding — these are all fascinating female characters who are the ones to move the plot forward in sometimes unexpected ways. And no two are alike. We get women who are strong, flawed, loyal, cruel, smart and more. That’s rare and refreshing, and it simply flows naturally from the story without any fanfare. It’s also rare to find an engrossing, cunning tale that manages to continually surprise and impress you.
Fincher also knows how to use actors. Affleck and Tyler Perry have a lot of vocal detractors, but Fincher knows exactly how to exploit both their talents and the public perception of them. Affleck is perfect for the hunky husband who’s used to getting by on his charm. Perry plays a slick lawyer with a reputation for getting “guilty” men acquitted, but he’s also undeniably successful and smart. That kind of fits into the way some people perceive him in real life as a highly successful filmmaker who makes movies that some find offensive. That is clever casting.
In a sense, Fincher gives us a perversely perfect first date movie with “Gone Girl” (rated R for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language). It’s an in-depth examination of a long-term relationship that makes you wonder if it’s possible to really know or trust anyone. So if a couple watches the film and emerges still trusting each other, they might have a shot at a healthy relationship.
Watch the trailer.
To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.