Wednesday, 1 October 2014
FILM REVIEW: GONE GIRL
20th Century Fox Films
"Blondes make the best victims." Alfred Hitchcock is quoted as saying. "They're like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints." And Amy Dunne -- a New York princess-cum-Missouri housewife who goes missing on the day of her fifth wedding anniversary -- is primed for victimhood: blonde, beautiful, sympathetic and media-friendly, her story and visage appeals to the big hearts and small minds of middle America and a lazy media. But is she a victim?
The conceit of David Fincher's latest thriller, Gone Girl, is to have you guessing -- or not, if you've read Gillian Flynn's bestseller, skimmed a review of the film, or merely glimpsed a Twitter conversation -- as to whether or not Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) killed his wife (Rosamund Pike), only to flip the switch half way through and have you thinking "why hasn't someone killed her sooner?"
For Gone Girl is as much a black comedy on the trials of marriage as it is a whodunnit. Nothing and no-one is as they seem and neither narrator -- Amy, who reads from her diary, nor Fincher, working from Flynn's screenplay -- can be trusted. No-one knows what goes on between couples behind closed doors, and Fincher's not about to make the Dunnes' relationship black and white (though it's decidedly more dark than light).
And marriage isn't the only institution being skewered here; the media and gullible public come in for none-too-subtle ribbing. Nick's seeming indifference to his wife's disappearance -- he doesn't seem to be reacting the way everyone, including police officers Boney (Kim Dickens) and Gilpin (Patrick Fugit), thinks he should -- and Amy's mere female-ness, positing the couple on opposing sides of a popularity contest.
Of course, Amy's case wouldn't receive half the media attention it does had she been black. That's not just an inherently American problem but one which pervades almost all Western media: white victim good, female better, blonde = gold. And that's certainly the case for media mavens Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle) and Sharon Schieber (Sela Ward), who smell blood in the water and ratings in (and on) the air. As a result, Nick, guilty or not, is fighting an uphill battle from the get-go.
Affleck does a fine job of playing the all-American boy; your typical high school quarterback or prom king who quite possibly peaked in high school even if he did manage to marry the prom queen. But Nick is also a writer and teacher, so he's no dummy -- despite his occasional goofy slip-ups -- and it's that intelligence and reserve which works against him in the court of public appeal.
Rosmaund Pike, a fine British actress landing the role of a lifetime, has the harder task of making Amy more than the victim, the hard-done-by-wife. Her performance comes into its own in the film's second act when we learn so much more about the trust fund beauty. And even if the material Pike has to work with veers toward the extreme end of the satire spectrum, abandoning reality for something more hysterical, she makes Amy highly-watchable.
The film itself is an oddly paced affair: a slow first act (focussing on Nick), a cracking second act (where Amy takes centre stage), and a third act that feels stretched out with false endings and a resolution that feels more like a pulled punch than a TKO.
But there's much to reward and delight the patient viewer (the film clocks in at 149-minutes), particularly those who have not read the source material (and are better able than some to avoid the spoiler territory of social media). And Fincher, arguably incapable of making a bad film, is on-song if not necessarily in top form.
But one wonders what The Master of Suspense himself would've done with Gone Girl? Hitchcock would certainly have had some bloody good fun with Amy Dunne.