Friday, 3 October 2014

Gone Girl

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) is a bar owner in Missouri leading a relatively normal, married life. That is,  until his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) goes missing on the morning of their fifth anniversary. Nick immediately turns to the police, giving his full co-operation. Soon, however, the media and the general public begin to turn on him, while he now lives at his sister's (Carrie Coon) house, with many believing he killed his wife. As the police investigation begins taking turns to back up the media's belief, Nick's world is turned upside down.

Gone Girl is the best film of 2014 thus far. David Fincher rarely puts a foot wrong in his films, and he can now add this to his extraordinary back catalogue. I mean, Se7en, Fight Club, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and now this. Fincher is clearly a director who knows what he wants, and he isn't afraid to push the boundaries on what we class as "entertainment". For much of its hefty 149 minute runtime, Gone Girl is very dark, very morbid viewing. But Fincher keeps it calm and collected for most of this, whilst consistently building the tension to unbelievable heights. But buried inside its story, Gone Girl offers serious, thought-provoking themes such as deception, infidelity, love and betrayal, and each of these themes plays such a big role in the overall outcome of the film. There is so much to talk about with Gone Girl that I am going to have to break my normal review structure. Settle in guys, this could be a long one.

First off, Fincher has brought out the best in both of his leads. Affleck has already proven himself to be a worthy actor (and director), but here he plays Nick with this wonderful sense of vulnerability, despite the fact that he should, and can be, an extremely difficult character to like. As the film's tone shifts for its final act, Affleck carries this on his shoulders, and handles the change in tone with perfection. But the real star here is Pike. From Bond girl to Gone Girl, Pike as an actress has had a remarkable journey, but this is her gem. Whilst Amy is missing, the film cuts between the present and the past; the past being narrated by Amy as we are shown an insight into their marriage. Throughout these scenes, Pike remains almost expressionless, making Amy an incredibly difficult character to read beyond the words she says. We feel like we should trust her, she is the victim in all of this, but Pike laces moments of doubt in her performance, and constantly throws the viewer off track. Amy is a relatable and likeable woman inside the world of the film, but for us as an audience? Well, how far can we trust the words of a missing woman?

Fincher chooses a tone early on, and sticks with it for the vast majority of  his film. Within ten minutes, Amy is missing, and from then on Gone Girl makes for incredibly dark viewing. Fincher takes the themes from his base material (Gillian Flynn's novel of the same name) and interlaces them into the characters, the story and the tone. Not only do we understand the deception that took place inside Nick and Amy's marriage, but we feel the deception of the events that occurred that morning once they are revealed to us (a moment that comes far earlier than one would expect). As shown in flashbacks, Amy clearly feels betrayed by Nick, as do Amy's parents, but perhaps Nick also feels betrayed by the world around him. The media and the public turn against him at such a rapid pace, but Nick is never shown to be alone. If it isn't coming from his wife, Nick is always tied in with some form of love; be that the love and support from his twin sister, or the student he is shown to be having an affair with relatively early on in the film. Fincher's themes wrap themselves onto the characters, and these themes drive the story forward just as much as the characters do.

But, for a film about murder, abduction, betrayal and deception, Gone Girl remains relatively light in terms of violence for the entire first half. We are shown a few abusive scenes between Nick and Amy, which Pike narrates with perfection, but nothing here is particularly shocking. That is, until a moment towards the end of the film's second act. To spoil this scene would be a crime in itself, but it lies firmly at the top of my list of Cinema's Most Harrowing Moments. It's not so much the content of scene, but the way Fincher directs it, that makes this moment so horrifying. The soundtrack ramps the fear level above and beyond anything I've seen in years, and the scene is edited so that it continually fades through black. Repeatedly cutting away from the action only makes the scene more unbearable; by being continuously drawn away and thrown back into the film it allows the moment to feel longer. When the scene cut to black, you could have heard a pin drop.

This is preceded by another scene which I feel Fincher executed perfectly. It details one of Amy's flashbacks, which all begin with a tightly framed close up of her pen writing out her diary entry in black ink, that she narrates to us. But this particular entry is written in red, a move that immediately registers in the mind as odd. Changing from black to red ink was a smart move in itself; it shows the effect that colour connotations can have, as red can act as symbolism for blood or violence, yet also love or passion. We know something is not right, simply by the alteration of a colour. The scene continues. Pike narrates and tells us of the fear Amy feels, using her brilliantly effective lack of facial expression, whilst Nick occasionally appears in the shadows around her, almost ghost-like. Is Nick closing in on her? Is her fear justified? Fincher cuts away before we get to find out.

One of Girl Girl's most divisive elements is its final act, particularly its very end. To discuss this, I need to go into detail, so maybe skip this paragraph if you wish to be left spoiler-free. Gone Girl concludes with the exact same footage as it begins. After the reveal that Amy faked her own kidnapping, murdered her ex-boyfriend and returned herself home, the film's tone changes monumentally. What was a thriller leans into drama territory, and some of the themes adapt with it. We lose the sense of deception having been told everything, but betrayal remains stronger than ever. Gone Girl ends brilliantly abruptly, with Nick realising he is stuck in the relationship with the now pregnant Amy. But, the moment he comes to this conclusion, we cut back to the film's opening moment. Nick narrates to us the issues of marriage, but they couldn't be any more real after knowing now what he has been through. But did this moment happen before the events of the film, or after?

Gone Girl is a film of mystery, with a lot of answers left down to audience interpretation. Fincher is on incredible form here; every shot is framed with perfection. He utilises the soundtrack to match the content of his film, which ranges from occasionally funny to mind-numbingly harrowing. Affleck and Pike play their roles faultlessly, with a plethora of supporting actors who live up to them. The story moves at a nice pace, with each reveal coming at exactly the right point to keep us guessing, but also understand and follow the plot. Fincher's themes shine through, seemingly a rarity in contemporary cinema. Gone Girl is incredibly likely to be a heavily nominated film come awards season next year, and justifiably so. Gone Girl is the best film of 2014 so far, and one of the very best films of the decade.

To Summarise: Brutally dark, highly sophisticated and featuring a stellar performance from Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl is another superb showcase of David Fincher's remarkable directorial talent.

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