GONE GIRL: Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike star in this ambitious thriller with a twist.GONE GIRL
Stars: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike
Director: David Fincher
Screening: General release
GILLIAN Flynn’s 2012 novel Gone Girl was one of those rare books with something for everyone: both an ingenious thriller (the plot is worthy of Wilkie Collins) and an up-to-date satire on the battle of the sexes, sparing neither male smugness nor pseudo-feminist sanctimony.
Though Flynn’s prose may be more smart-alecky than witty, her sharpest jibes cut deep, as in the legendary passage dissecting the male fantasy of the Cool Girl – the kind of chilled-out hottie who maintains her ultra-feminine appeal while cursing and guzzling hot dogs like one of the guys.
Clearly Gone Girl was always going to be a movie, whatever challenges for the would-be adapter might be posed by its convoluted dual-narrator structure.
In the event, the very capable script was written by Flynn herself, presumably with some input from director David Fincher, one of the most distinctive artistic personalities in today’s Hollywood.
Like every other ambitious American male filmmaker of a certain age, Fincher wants to be Stanley Kubrick, which is to say both an uncompromising artist and a showman capable of reaching the widest public.
In Fincher’s case, this often means snapping up the rights to racy bestsellers – earlier examples include Fight Club and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – which he can film with outward fidelity while pursuing more secretive aesthetic goals.
In a phrase, Gone Girl could be summed up as a film about image management, a central concern for characters and filmmaker alike.
The protagonists – both sometime media professionals – are ‘‘types’’ who recognise themselves as such: Nick Elliott (Ben Affleck) is the regular guy who woos and wins golden girl Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), then takes her back to his Missouri home town, where their marriage falls apart.
When she vanishes one morning, Nick becomes a suspect in her murder – and as viewers, we’re given no guarantees about whom we should believe, though entries from Amy’s diary, dramatised in flashback, fill in some of the puzzle pieces.
Fincher’s style has changed little since Zodiac, now identifiable as his first ‘‘mature’’ film: tungsten lighting, limited camera movement, a sharp eye and ear for significant detail, and a funereal tone offset by fleet editing that compels us to pay attention or risk missing a clue.
Once news of the disappearance goes public, TV pundits and everyday folk are equally quick to take sides – Team Amy or Team Nick? – even as the viewer is made to suspect that both parties have plenty to hide.
As narrators of the book, Nick and Amy address the reader directly, commenting on the distance between their public and private selves.
While Fincher can’t replicate this effect on film, he achieves an equivalent kind of irony simply by putting the naturally smarmy Affleck in a role that capitalises on the unbelievability of his good-guy screen persona.
Other instances of stunt casting are comparably astute, from Tyler Perry as a purring defence attorney to Neil Patrick Harris as the kind of well-spoken nutcase John Lithgow used to play for Brian de Palma.
With a fraction of Affleck’s screen time, Pike has a much trickier role: she has to be poised and opaque, calm but with hints of treacherous depths.
Floating through the narrative like a ghost, she embodies the aloofness that is both the film’s strength and its weakness.
Admirably, Fincher is not at all interested in the cliche of the glamorous femme fatale – but nor can he summon any trace of the romantic-comedy warmth that would give us an emotional investment in Nick and Amy’s relationship before things go downhill.