David Fincher, 2014, USA
No matter how much I instinctively feel something like Gone Girl is well beneath David Fincher’s talents, I have to remind myself this is a contradictory impulse. Just over half of his films give distinct narrative compression and a glean of artistry to their meandering consume-and-forget source material (even the richness of Zodiac is mined from a sensationalist bestseller), most of which he makes into movies I really like. He’s been “slumming it”, as they say, for years now, and he mostly proves just as capable of doing so among the Southern middle-class cul-de-sacs of Gillian Flynn’s tawdry novel, where this story’s married couple from Manhattan will violently prove they cannot. Fincher can elevate the superfluous page-turner into pop art diagramming the shadows lurking around obsession, and his latest may be the prime example of his ability to harmonize opposite ends of his sometimes questionable taste (unless you consider The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a successful salvage from the hack writer’s cliché heap). While Gone Girl is ultimately a brisk, impassioned, and fun 145-minute whodunit of sorts, it also strikes me as a bit too terse, even for Fincher, in its condensation of Flynn’s flagrant relationship metaphors, clumsy plot reversals, and hasty characterizations of duplicity. I do think this is out of necessity on his part, but to mostly his and partially Flynn’s screenwriting credit, they give an abridged and wisely pruned summation of a novel I definitely don’t need to read in hindsight. The suspiciously lax opening credit sequence—a tense barrage of equally timed cuts between banal suburban exteriors—only functions to ease us into the rushed pace Fincher must move to hold our interest in these two cut-outs of modern marital discord while keeping Flynn’s story from stagnating. Doomed, engendered perceptions of marriage and each other’s sex—especially including ours as her sudden disappearance unfolds and complicates a man’s weak alibi and the wife’s diary that damns him—is a motif Fincher knows well, but has kept relegated as second fiddle to bigger ambitions in previous works. The film’s greatest intrigue lies in witnessing just how calculated and coldly pessimistic he wants to get about true love when it’s placed front and center, and in Gone Girl, he’s found a fledgling household vacant yet exciting enough to embellish his undertones into a bold shade of psychotic resentment. The color suits it all well enough.