Sunday, 12 October 2014

Gone Girl (2014) Film Review

Check it out... if you seek a film which wishes to dig deeper into the modern marriage, and examine the personality clash involved; though if you're much less into thematic interpretation, you should still be satisfied with outstanding performances, cinematography and writing

Skip it... if you flinch easily at the sight of blood or genitalia, or seek a crime thriller which doesn't dig deeper than the surface relationships and events occurring on screen 
Gone Girl poster

"It's unapologetic, as the majority of Fincher films generally are, and it garners respect from myself for doing so; all those involved were unafraid to throw everything at the screen, and to commit to all their roles fully."

Gone Girl is a film directed by David Fincher, scripted and based upon the novel by Gillian Flynn, and stars Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris and Carrie Coon, and centres around the character of Nick Dunne; a man whose wife goes missing on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary. What transpires after Nick informs law enforcement of his wife's disappearance leads all those looking in upon the case wondering the same question; did Nick Dunne kill his wife?

Perfectionist. Meticulous. Driven. Sick. Twisted. Intelligent. Funny. All words that could suitably describe the style of David Fincher's directorial outings, all eleven of his cinematic motion pictures, including this here film. There are few directors still working in Hollywood who have such a near-flawless resume as Fincher; excluding Alien 3, which Fincher admits was more a failure due to the intervention of the production studios than his own directorial capabilities. Apart from this misstep though, Fincher's filmography is ridden with modern day classics, ranging from the harrowing films Se7en and Fight Club, to the interesting, informative and entertaining The Social Network and the American remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Now comes Gone Girl, a film based upon the 2012 novel of the same name, a film which seems to aptly suit Fincher's meticulous tendencies; filled with immense characterization and social commentary, Gone Girl is the kind of film that could seemingly only be filmed by a single man, that being the one who did undertake that role. After an immensely critical and effective marketing campaign, Gone Girl entered the box office at number one last week, securing the notion that Fincher is still an immensely popular director, and can be considered a huge financial draw. On a critical consensus, it has also fared relatively well; Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and IMDb have assigned ratings of a high standard, contributing to the growing trend that near-all Fincher films are critical darlings. 

And so this film should receive high acclaim, for it is one of the years finest cinematic endeavors. It is a film which immediately provokes conversation and discussion, and encourages the audience member to think deeply about the underlying themes and meaning of each individual component of the movie. Each character can be suitably examined; taken apart and constructed back together. It is quite rare that such a film as this is so wholly accepted by the mainstream audience, might I add; other films released recently which have encompassed image-and-thematic-reliant writing, cinematography and direction comparable to Gone Girl have included Under the Skin and Enemy, and both of those films have garnered a rating of less than 7 on IMDb which indicates average reviews from audience members. Both of those films are exceptional displays of far-reaching creativity in a business where such is either frowned upon by way of commercial response or critical consensus, but neither have received nearly as much praise or as much discussion as Gone Girl, a seemingly more simplistic and straight-forward film which relies less on metaphors and hidden meaning as either Under the Skin or Enemy. Or is this in fact fallacious? Have audience members simply dismissed the hidden thematic constructs of a film which boasts of having such, and instead rated the film as a crime thriller (of which it is an exemplary example of such)? Not entirely, though I feel many a viewer has dismissed the idea that there is much more characterization, development and ideas flowing underneath the carefully developed surface of the film. The surface, in fact, reveals very little about the true motives that the main characters of the film sport, so I feel the majority of the mainstream audience is missing out on a very unique opportunity; to dig deeper into a film which is worthy of so much more than just the basic commentary, this including the acclaim of the "brilliant acting, great pacing, realistic dialogue, unpredictability, and examination of both the modern marriage and the media." It's disappointing to see so few digging further than just this surface brilliance.

So lets begin by running through the opening and premise of the film (do not fear; there shan't be any game-changing spoilers within this review). Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne. On the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary to his wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike, Nick indulges in a short drive to the bar of which he and his sister, Margo, own. They discuss his anniversary, the previous gifts that Amy and Nick have given to each other on this day in years gone past, and how Nick is not wishing to return home. He is distressed for reasons unknown. Nick gets a call from a neighbour, telling him his cat has escaped and is on his driveway. As Nick returns home to put the cat back into the house, he discovers that his wife is no longer at the residence, and a table is smashed, thrown onto the floor. He calls the police, informing them of Amy's disappearance. The movie then begins to pick up speed, switching between diary entries that Amy has made in the past, detailing the marriage between the two and how it has slowly crumbled to a level of unnerving aggression between the husband and wife, and the investigation and search for Amy in the present day. As the story unravels and we learn more about Nick and his wife, we begin to suspect that he is not all he seems; he's a man who doesn't know how to handle his own persona in front of the media, and is subjected to a great quantity of media scrutiny. His lying ways begin to unravel in front of him, and before long, Nick seems to be the lead suspect in the case at hand. 

This is the limit of what I can discuss without spoiling the film for those who have not viewed the film as of yet. Instead of discussing the film's dialogue or acting, I want to discuss a few things of interest that I have found rather compelling or interesting. Firstly, that of Fincher's set design; Tim Croshaw was the set designer for the film, and his vision of the world that Nick inhabits is immediately off-putting, initially for reasons unknown. The majority of the locations used have a clear crispness to them, all of them consistently professional looking. It was after around halfway through the film that I realised the true motivation behind what Fincher and Croshaw had constructed; the movie's locations could be compared very much to the Nostromo from Alien, in that the sets are all so entirely sterile that they become aggressive in their own right. Fincher's meticulous vision shines vibrantly through in these instances where he pays attention to the normality of the locations, as it contrasts so well with the crazy and unique characters which inhabit the universe of the film. The sets also echo the theme of the 'marital expectations' that society embeds in us from an early age; that you have to live in a two story house, with a four wheel drive; you need to have a a pet, and your grass needs to be cut to a sheer level; your house needs to fit in. It's the cliched American normality that the film exhibits that contrasts so well with the obvious abnormality that the individuals and characters sport all throughout; it's comparable to the characters which littered the 1999 Oscar-winning American Beauty, though to a lesser extent. The characters all want to be unique, and want to be dictated not by anyone else, but by their own actions and decisions, but they are all constantly held down by societies expectations and demands. 

The film initially explores Nick's character and personality prominently, though the second half of the film begins to elaborate on the psychology of Amy, who is a character who holds much interest within the film. We are informed by those who knew Amy that on the outside, she is the perfect woman; she's undeniably beautiful, intellectually advanced and unique. As you draw closer to her true motivations and past though, what you begin to see is a person who is less pristine than what is initially let on. This is in part thanks to the glorious performance from Rosamund Pike, whose more recent acting stints included that of The World's End (in which she was again, wonderful) and Jack Reacher. Her performances during flashbacks and past diary entries are all quite harrowing, and as her voice begins to dictate the plot more heavily as the film rolls on, she begins to steal her scenes more often. What Fincher is so incredibly good at within his films is that of changing an audience member's perception of a certain character, despite the preliminary assumptions made by those viewing the film. He did this within The Social Network consistently (One could sympathize with Jesse Eisenberg's Mark Zuckerberg at the beginning of that film, though Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin slowly changed your perception of his personality over time, transforming him into a bit of an asshole by the end of the movie), and he executes it here with the same artistry, only this time in the case of Amy, a woman who appears angelic from first glance, but is in fact a person who sports extreme jealousy, anger and temper issues. She desires attention and love, both of which she feels she has been denied of from Nick. All of these issues could be contributed to her parents, who from an early age, started to write novels centering around Amy; the catch was that everything that Amy failed at, the novel persona of herself, Amazing Amy, would succeed in doing. Amy's eventual self doubt and loathing of those who want her to conform to ideals and their idea of the 'perfect Amy' play a big part in her side of the story; one which very much contradicts Nick's side of things.

As the plot hurtles forward, other characters come into play that may or may not know what happened to Amy. We get to meet a number of interesting personalities along the way, including Neil Patrick Harris' Desi Collings; a former boyfriend of Amy's that is still in love with her, despite all the years apart. Harris is absolutely sensational in a rather creepy role, and executes all his scenes with finesse and discipline; it's also nice to see him move away from being the type-cast Barney Stinson character that he seems to have been for so many years. His chemistry with a number of key performers is outstanding, and his performances in a number of pivotal scenes in the film (including one that is insanely stylistic and violent, and shall not be forgotten by myself any time into the future) are all of a high standard. Also on offer from the ensemble, this time more in relation to Nick's character, is Tyler Perry's surprisingly funny Tanner Bolt, an ace lawyer who takes up the difficult job of defending Nick; Emily Ratajkowski's Andie Hardy, a woman involved in some of Nick's lies and deceits, and Kim Dickens, the female police officer involved with the case. All these performances are outstanding, especially Perry, who is usually not so appealing as he is here. Special acclaim must be given to Ratajkowski though, as her acting experience is relatively limited compared to most of those working alongside her, and her dedication to her role is fantastic.

Though none have as great a dedication to their roles as Affleck and Pike, who both engage in some of the more... sexually orientated of scenes within the film. A full frontal (however brief) from Affleck reflects the outstanding amount of commitment he delivers to this role, which demands much on both a physical front, as well as emotionally. Pike also lends her enthusiasm and dedication to her role, exploring the physical component of her character greatly. For those who flinch easily at the sight of a woman in the midst of orgasm during oral sex, perhaps Gone Girl is not the film for you, as sights like these are somewhat common throughout. Fortunately, Fincher does not utilize sex as a gratuitous tool, but uses it to draw emphasis on a character's mindset or a situational dilemma. Some of the most utterly brutal scenes involve sex, used as a story-related element of the sequence. Another comparison could be drawn to Under the Skin in this instance, as both films utilised the naked body, as well as intercourse, to demonstrate various levels of mindset and story development, neither executed with a lack of care or precision. It's another way of expressing emotion through physical action, that unlike many a director, is considered entirely crucial by Fincher that works so very well without feeling excessive.

The only major negative of the film lies within the score, composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. As was indicated quite obviously within my review for the score as an individual album, Reznor and Ross' efforts lack any story or emotion, though in the context of the film, they aren't entirely without merit. For example, the opening to the film is immediately enthralling, primary because of the score; though I would consider this to be the work of the outstanding sound mixer assigned to the project, this being Steve Cantamessa. All throughout the film, Cantamessa is responsible for some insanely good uses of music, inserting and cutting the score at just the exact right moments to ensure a great deal of uneasiness lies within all throughout. The distorted electronics were often poorly constructed, though their careful insertion into certain sequences leaves the audience member feeling insanely cold and on edge. Without spoiling the film, a number of musical cues involving flashbacks of Amy stand out as some of the finest displays of sound mixing all year. Unfortunately, there are portions where the music sounds like abysmal filler, reinforcing a mood and tone (that of disturbance and unease) which has already been consistently pumped into our brains. We get it guys; everything is not as it seems, and certain characters are far darker and violent than they are letting on. Fortunately, these disappointing portions are only notable through a few segments of film, with the rest consistently impressing within context. I stand by my statement that Reznor and Ross' efforts are nothing short of atrocious, nearly entirely without emotion nor story, though it's undoubtable that they do seem to work in conjunction with the film well, as was the case with The Social Network. Should this win an Oscar for Best Score, like many are saying it should? Absolutely not! That is How To Train Your Dragon 2's award. Nevertheless, it does its initial job primarily without major fault, so credit is due where credit is due. 

The rest of the film, I have no problems with. The pacing and screenplay by Gillian Flynn is absolutely outstanding: Flynn's turn from author to screenwriter is quite stunning. I've never seen a cinematic translation written by the author of the source material turn out this well, so job well done to Flynn. She gives each character personality, quirks, a dark side; she fleshes out near-every single individual within the film, leaving you questioning their stories and claims. This is exactly how crime thrillers should be written, that is with an emphasis on characterization and back-stories. The cinematography within the film is also worthy of acclamation, and will undoubtedly see Fincher earn a nomination for the award of Best Cinematography, as he so rightly deserves. Fincher has constructed an entirely unique visual style throughout his filmography, and Gone Girl is no exception. Paired with the aforementioned set design and carefully constructed locations, Fincher shines behind the camera alongside cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth. Their imagery, as was aforementioned, highly contrasts against the thought process and personalities of the characters throughout. 

All in all, one could consider Gone Girl a near perfect film. It trips up slightly with Reznor and Ross' efforts, though for the most part, it manages to enthrall and shock the audience member, keeping them entertained all throughout. It's unapologetic, as the majority of Fincher films generally are, and it garners respect from myself for doing so; all those involved were unafraid to throw everything at the screen, and to commit to all their roles fully. There is not a single poor performance on screen, not a single image which seems unnecessary or poorly executed, not a sound effect which feels poorly placed; it's one of the few films that comes so admirably close to technical perfection. It's most certainly not for everyone, but for those who aren't going to flinch as female and male genitalia appear upon screen, or shan't look away as violent and bloody murders (which aren't in high quantity throughout, I might add) are committed, this should be a satisfying trip to the cinemas. Affleck and Pike both are undoubtedly going to receive at least nominations from the Academy; Fincher will find himself with an award for Best Director, and a nomination for Best Picture is imminent; the best thing about all this? The fact that this film entirely deserves it.


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