Apart from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it’s been a pretty drab year at the movies. Tentpole film after tentpole film has come and gone without making much of an impression–it’s not that they’ve been particularly bad, just not all that good. Thus, roughly two months had passed since I went to the movie theater when I finally decided to call a friend and see Gone Girl this past week. My initial impression was that it was a well-crafted, if too long, thriller that more than satisfies the need for an evening’s entertainment. After a few days worth of reflection on the movie, though, my assessment of it has only served to elevate the film in my mind’s eye.
Under the competent hand of director David Fincher, who has a penchant for helming projects that seem to start as tabloid headlines, Gone Girl documents the fallout of the disappearance of Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) on July 5th, the day of her fifth wedding anniversary to husband Nick (Ben Affleck). The story unfolds in such a manner that one soon begins to suspect Nick to be involved in Amy’s disappearance, but its narrative folds back on itself in a series of twists and turns–each more audacious than the one that preceded it–that are just too fun to ruin by naming them in a review. Here is a cinematic thriller that rightly understands that process is an indispensable part of weaving a good yarn and is not ashamed to put its craft–moody lighting, unsettling score, intricate editing–on full display for the audience to enjoy.
I loved the filmmaking and acting while I watched the movie; Rosamund Pike in particular relishes her role and I would love to see her efforts rewarded with an Oscar-nomination this winter. However, my decision to recommend this movie to others is not simply out of respect for the expertise that went into its making, but due to the themes it explores with bloody, visceral confidence. My aforementioned friend who ventured to the theater with me turned sour on it because of its rather graphic and unabashedly extreme use of sex and violence, but the more I reflect on the movie, the more I am convinced director Fincher and screenwriter Gillian Flynn (adapting from her own novel) are up to something novel in their storytelling.
As in his Zodiac and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Fincher is interested in exploring the atmosphere that emerges around a major event. Zodiac focused on the infamous, real-life killings in San Francisco while Dragon Tattoo delved into the world of both journalistic and familial intrigue. Gone Girl looks at the media storm that erupts when beautiful people go missing and calls into question the way in which those precious narratives are formed by TV, police, and the general public. Flynn’s script displays a cynical edge that sometimes is a bit obvious, particularly in the closing moments of the film, but also serves as a great reminder of how easily public opinion is swayed through careful delivery of content.
Gone Girl is a thinking man’s Basic Instinct. Whereas the Michael Douglas-Sharon Stone vehicle used its sex and violence to titillate its viewer and call it a day, 2014’s most audacious thriller yet plays these elements in an almost muted, dispassionate tone that invites the viewer to contemplate what these images and sounds signify. The movie doesn’t shy away from its sensational elements, but it shows them as cold, calculating pieces to a puzzle carefully packaged to a complicit audience. In a world where everything is being relayed through media, Gone Girl rightly asks us to consider what is going on and how we’re reacting to it.