13 Oct 2014

[Review] - Gone Girl

Courtesy of Regency Enterprises
In film buff circles, Fincher's name is spoken with the same reverence and respect that Coppola, that Scorsese, that Burgman and Kubrick are spoken of. And I understand that reverence and respect. And, when watching films like Seven, or Fight Club, or Gone Girl, I can certainly see the aspects and talents that he possesses that earn him those adulations. He has a surprisingly small and eclectic filmography in which there is a lot to be excited about. Fincher is one of those directors that understands that storytelling is about telling a story, not about just putting something on the screen. He understands that in a visual medium, every movement of the camera and the length of a shot is as important as word choice and sentence structure is in a written work.

Gone Girl is an prime example of Fincher under control. It's an excellent film, anchored by strong performances in front of the screen, a solid script moving things along, and a patient and detailed eye behind the camera. While I was in the theatre, I was engrossed entirely, driven by the tension not of the mystery but of the characters, a tension that will be lessened but not completely absent from later viewings (a rarity in the "twist" movie subgenre). Fincher's is a detail oriented, exact and somehow invisible hand. He's so good at making himself not be obvious that I often forget he's there at all. But if he wasn't, and someone else was, this would be an entirely different story.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that are only like that when they're with you.

Right off the bat, I'm going to step into the deepend and say: I don't understand the cries of misogyny that have been leveled against this film, and the novel that it is based on (both written by Gillian Flynn). What I saw was a violent reaction against, and a sophisticated manipulation of, a culture that supports misogyny and demeans women, as par for the course. I see this film as the other of misogyny; not the argument against, but the culmination of the victim's experience. The character of Amy is not a feminist idol, nor is Nick a strawman easily knocked over in the breeze of the discussion. the closest comparison I can think of for Amy is Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. Both are hyper-inflated caricatures of a cultural expectation, that thrives on the subversity they wallow in. Both use the system that created them to damage the same system.

The Speech, the Good Girl speech, the one that occurs about halfway through the film, the one that you'll see quoted a hundred dozen times on Tumblr is the least subtle thing about this entire work. Amy is a satire of the perfect wife, the Hitchcock blonde, the American Dream of the 21st century. The hip chick that somehow simultaneously affirms the antiquated notions of the June Clever archetype while also being a strong independent product of the feminist victory. That a modern woman is essentially a Stepford Wife living under the assumption that she won her freedom, when in fact the culture merely shifted to make it seem like they did, while introducing entirely new and depraved levels of indignity. Amy comments on this life, and then explains to us in extreme detail the lengths she had to go to in order to break free of the system, only to find herself unable to actually escape. It's a gender-based Logan's Run, except the whole thing is a closed system and no one is allowed to escape.

Gone Girl is a movie abut monsters, and like any good monster movie, the fictional ones are just there to distract us from the real horrors that wait to consume us. In this case, the all too real public judgement of a man whose wife has gone missing is the coat of paint drawn over the rotten and desiccated woodwork of a morbidly modern life. The cultural expectation that everyone should be in a relationship, otherwise they are a failure, and that those relationships must be both easy and fun, with no expectation of effort or honesty. It's the Starbucks world of personal relationships, everything is pre-packaged and takes minimal effort, but costs a lot more than it should. Because everyone exists to fulfill a previously arranged set of expectations, and the duration of anything isn't not filled with companionship so much as just a marathon of checking the right box at the socially acceptable time (though never too soon or too late, for fear of judgement), then marriages like that or Nick and Amy are really nothing more than prolonged Health and Safety inspections that are doomed to failure.

Gone Girl is a movie about monsters, and the best monsters are front and centre. Ben Affleck continues his run of career redemption (and seriously, he is setting expectations for Batman v Supperman: Warming of the In-Flight Meal way to high, for his part anyway) by underplaying monster number one. Nick is a monster in the way that he doesn't know he's as bad as he's being accused of. He's a blue collar schlub, who plays violent video games, buys all the latest gadgets, is emotionally unresponsive and unaware of his callous and sexist behaviour. He's the product of every terrible relationship sitcom. He gets but never gives, and succeeds because he's just so damned charming.

It's mostly Affleck's charm that saves him from being completely wrong for the role (that, and his natural comedic abilities, which help the surprisingly funny script work all the better). Really, it should be played by someone less traditionally attractive. Less chiseled jaw, more beer gut. But it's the greasy, irresistible charm that he layers on flawlessly and effortlessly that gives Nick that edge of believably. There are thousands, if not millions, of Nick's out there, getting by and getting off because they flash a grin and are quick with a one-liner who, one they don't have to work for it anymore, prove themselves just to be lazy assholes.

The other monster is Amy, and she is a perfect monster. Rosamund Pike, whose been on a run of good luck lately, and proving herself to be a powerhouse of emotional range, makes Amy a wonderful villain. She's the sort of villain that audiences love to remember, and Pike is setting herself up for longevity here. That's not to say that Nick is the hero; he's a villain too, just the lesser of two evils. It's a film driven by the bad guys, leaving the good guys on the periphery, reacting in shame, embarrassment and horror to these two and their madness. Amy is motivated, patient and single minded in her belief that she is in the right. That the expectations leveled against her can only be met with such extreme action.

It is a credit to the writing that it never makes Amy seem as though she has snapped. Amy is just as guilty of manipulation and presumptive conditioning as Nick, her actions just become more extreme over time as she realizes that she's loosing control. Amy is the product of a thousand issues of Cosmo tests, with instructions on how to please your man and getting that bikini ready body. She's forced to live a life without a personality for fear that being the person she wants to be will make her uninteresting to others (in a grand scheme: Amy herself, is just crazy). She puts on a living show, a living fiction, a trope made flesh. She's just smart enough for it not to destroy her sense of self, she just reacts extremely when trying to express that true self.

This film is a massive condemnation of modern fad culture, dressed up as an engaging and suspenseful mystery. And it's not just yuppie culture, or whatever yuppies are called now. It's hipsters, and MILFS, and armchair juries, and the media. It's every aspect of the Western World where we're more concerned with aligning ourselves to a template and meeting the expectation of someone else, even a stranger. It's the social networking and snapchatting our dinners, and getting followers and playing out our lives as though it were theatre. The demand made by others that our lives be interesting or else they won't "like" you, and the egotism that our lives must be interesting to more than just the five people directly in front of you. This movie is a giant, increasingly unsubtle finger to the audience, who more than likely are guilty of the exact same things that Nick and Amy are, but Nick and Amy are enacting metaphors; what's your excuse?

Fincher's strength is in his expectations. And in his films, it's usually the supporting characters, usually played by less recognizable actors, that come out the strongest. This goes all the way back to Paul McGann and Charles Dance in Alien3. So while Affleck and Pike provide the core, it is the smaller roles but equal performances of Neil Patrick Harris or Kim Dickens that make this film truly remarkable. The stand out through has to be Carrie Coon as Nick's twin sister Margo. Margo is the audience surrogate in this film. She's the one that finds out stuff at the same time as the audience, she's the one that reacts as the audience reacts, and she's the one that labels both Nick and Amy villains. At the start of the film, when Amy goes missing and we flash back to see her as the lovely, beautiful do-no-wrong victim, it's Margo that calls her a bitch, and it takes us time to realize that she was right. Coon's performance is outstanding, played mostly against Affleck, and they have better chemistry than Affleck and Pike (which is purposeful, as the whole point of the film is that Nick and Amy have no natural chemistry together).

Gone Girl is one of those rare films against whom I have no immediate complaints. I'm sure some will come to mind eventually, but Fincher is so deliberate, there isn't much left to pick at. The run tie is long, but the film never lags, and every scene in the film is there out of necessity. Same goes for characters, even as minor as Patrick Fugit's police officer. He fulfills a very specific role in the way Fincher wants to tell the story. Nothing here is surplus. Nothing is added for filler. Even the humour, which is entirely unexpected and plentiful, feels perfectly natural, and in fact makes the film feel all the more believable. Everything directs the viewer towards the conclusion. And makes certain that it's a hell of a lot of fun getting there.

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