01 October 2014

"I Don't Even Know If I Believe the Truth"

David Fincher has this great talent whereby no matter how long the running time of his films — and his latest, Gone Girl, clocks in at 149 minutes — they always leave you wanting more. It was the same with Zodiac and especially The Social Network, which remains one of my favourite films of the decade.

Fincher also has a knack for making the viewer care about unlikeable, unreliable characters. And although in Gone Girl, it seems at first as though Ben Affleck is Eduardo Saverin to Rosamund Pike's Mark Zuckerberg, it's much more complicated than that. If you've read Gillian Flynn's novel of the same name — and if you haven't go away and read it now before you read any further and before you watch the movie — you won't be disappointed by its transition to the big screen, adapted by Flynn herself.

The film opens with a close-up of Pike's golden-haired head. She is Amy Dunne, golden girl turned eponymous gone girl, whose disappearance on the day of her fifth wedding anniversary is the impetus, if not the chronological beginning of the film. As the camera zooms out, her husband Nick (Affleck) ponders the key ingredients of a marriage. "What are you thinking? What are you feeling? What have we done?" he asks. In the morning, Nick goes to drink at the bar he co-owns with his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon), and then returns home to find signs of a break-in and a struggle. Amy has gone AWOL, so of course Nick gets the cops in, like a good husband. Except it soon becomes clear that he might not be anything like as good a husband as he wants us to believe.

Or maybe he is, and we have just been fooled by Amy's retelling of the events of their relationship through the medium of her diary, which is discovered by small-town good cop (Kim Dickens), who wants to believe Nick's story, and bad cop (Patrick Fugit), who thinks he's a lying liar who lies (and murders his wife). In the novel, the chapters alternate between Nick's first-person narration and Amy's diary entries, and this structure transferred well onto the big screen. However, Affleck's Nick is a lot more likeable than his novel alter-ego. This is partly due to Affleck's 'hey, I know I married this beautiful sociopath, but it's totally not my fault' performance, but partly because we can't see directly into his mind as we can in the novel. "Everyone knows 'complicated' is code for 'bitch'," he explains. Then again, Amy and Nick are two of the most untrustworthy characters in history, so inner monologues don't offer a huge amount in the truth stakes.

As the film progresses, we find out more about the couple's troubles — how they regressed from happy, loved-up Brooklyn-dwelling writers, who say that they are "so cute I want to punch us in the face" (and they aren't alone), to sad, angry residents of small-town Missouri with no friends nor much of a life beyond finding ever more sophisticated ways to mess with the mind of the other. And no, it's probably not a coincidence that the film is set in the town of North Carthage; Amy would certainly enjoy the Dido reference.

Gone Girl is a highly compelling film that leaves you gripped until the closing credits finally appear and you can breathe again — Trent Reznor's cool soundtrack also has a key part in creating the unsettling, tense vibe. It's also sharp and quite funny in places, although definitely more black and dry humour than the LOLing that was going on the preview screening I attended. Pike is perfectly cast as Amy — her accent slips occasionally, but otherwise she makes a wonderful manipulative, ice-queen sociopath (or is she?). The weird, awkward chemistry she has with Affleck is brilliant. There's a nice turn from Neil Patrick Harris as Amy's creepy ex-boyfriend Desi, but really, it's all about Pike and Affleck as they fight to convince us that they are innocent — or at least that they have won the game they think they are playing. Well done, Mr Fincher; you've done it again.

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