Gone Girl is an engrossing cinematic experience

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David Fincher’s new movie Gone Girl is an experience. Say what you will about its qualities as a piece of film art. But, if nothing else, the experience of sitting down in a darkened theatre and taking in Fincher’s dark, sometimes funny, and often profoundly messed up flick about marriage and relationships was, for me, one of the most affecting, involved, and flabbergasting experiences of all this year.

On paper, Gone Girl looks like a dime novel thriller. It’s the story of a man, whose beautiful and charming wife is kidnapped. Her disappearance becomes a massive media event, throwing scrutiny on their not-so-happy marriage and casting him as the prime suspect. But rather than being seen as a hero, Nick Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) innocence in this whole rigmarole is continually undermined, not just to the media and public, but to the audience of the film, leading to an exercise in suspense and mystery, in which the audience literally doesn’t know who to trust.

Gone Girl posterOk, so let’s get the formal stuff out of the way first. As we have come to expect from a craftsman like Fincher, Gone Girl is beautifully shot and edited, about as broody and dark as we’ve come to expect from the Se7en director, just under-lit enough to make the everything feel slightly sinister, and accompanied by a thumping minimalist score by Fincher’s frequent collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. All of the cast knocks it out of the park, with Rosamund Pike’s Amy, the missing wife, delivering a performance that will probably enrage a lot of people when it gets passed over at next year’s Oscars. The supporting cast are full of standouts, with a possibly career re-defining turn from Neil Patrick Harris and a shockingly good but understated supporting performance by Tyler Perry. The one who may get passed over a lot, unfortunately, is Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin sister. It’s not one of the “in your face good” performances in the flick, which may lead to a lot of people not noticing that she’s seriously good, especially given that this is her first film role ever.

As for Affleck? He’s good. Not amazing, not terrible, but good. He pulls of what he needed to pull of, and, if nothing else, the fact that I wasn’t thinking “So you gonna be a good Batman?” every time he was on screen is proof enough that he did a good job.

For virtually the entire second half of the screening, my mouth was ajar. As you may have heard, Gone Girl, like a novelty drinking straw, or my small intestine, is a wee bit twisty. Virtually every 20 minutes or so there’s some new twist, some new shocking development, something that completely throws you off from where you think this is all going, to the point that by the halfway mark I’d completely given up trying to make predictions and just sat there in gobsmacked awe, completely going along for the ride. I could almost see David Fincher perched above the screen, a puckish grin on his face as he lobbed the occasional flashbang grenade into the audience, mouthing the words “Oh what, were you getting complacent? Bored even? Well, let’s change that!” And then there’s a soft thud on the floor next to me and suddenly my ear drums are bleeding.

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And of course it’s all ridiculous – a collection of twists and turns that would make Gone Girl a laughable soap opera of a movie in the hands of any other director. But because it was Fincher at the helm, stringing you along with expertly maintained tension and suspense, it’s an incredibly engrossing experience. This is in no small part because it spends almost the entire second act walking an absolute razor’s edge between being credible and incredible, constantly teetering on the edge of being completely and utterly ridiculous. And then it does a backflip, a pirouette and a handstand on that edge, just to show off how much it can be silly without breaking its hold on you.

It’s a rollercoaster, a spinning teacup of twists and turns that leaves you disoriented and a bit nauseous. The only point at which it really let me down was in the ending, which is the kind of ending where the credits suddenly roll and all you can do is let out a little, deflated “Oh.” It’s not a bad ending, but it comes out of nowhere, sneaking up on you. It’s anticlimactic, but that’s not the problem. It’s meant to be anticlimactic. But I think it’s rather the wrong sort of anticlimactic, a bit too deflating and not nearly sinister and chilling enough as it could have been.

Gone Girl is a pretty darn good movie. Eminently well-made, fantastically acted and masterfully suspenseful. But its true value, I think, is the experience it leaves you with upon first viewing. I don’t think I’ve seen a movie this year that engrossed me this much, that kept me this on the edge of my seat, even when a part of my brain was going, “This is ridiculous, this is utterly ridiculous” while another bit went, “Shut up, will you, I wanna see where this goes!!” And if you can’t appreciate it for that, you can appreciate it for being a deeply layered meditation on relationships and manipulation, a searing take down of the news media (particularly ones named for a certain small, red member of the Canidae family) and a seriously well made and acted thriller.

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