A souped-up marriage melodrama masquerades as a mid-west gothic thriller in David Fincher’s mischievous adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestselling page turner, ‘Gone Girl’, which should come across as a paper thin parody or a routine TV crime series gone wrong but doesn’t.
This is the stuff of nightmares where clichés take on a new realism, and 24 hour sensational news coverage and rampant twitter hype become more important than the cops in establishing guilt.
It’s horrible but fascinating, forming a quasi-dystopian companion to his contemporary masterpiece, ‘Social Network’, answering some of the questions previously left in the air.
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike play Nick and Amy, former high flying New York journalists doing very little in backwater Missouri after falling foul of the economic meltdown. It’s a breeding ground for domestic malaise, the couple feeling the weight of financial uncertainties and a polarising ennui but this can only partially explain Nick’s behaviour; a venomous loathing turned unbearable.
And when Amy goes missing on their fifth wedding anniversary, his barely concealed indifference fuels a familiar ‘guilty as should be charged’ media witch-hunt – pumping up the viewing figures – but the evidence is as slippery as Fincher’s editing.
It creates two time periods, informing and contradicting each other, easily giving us the slip as flashbacks dramatise Amy’s diary, a sugary account of the perfect husband turned dangerous misogynist from the ultimate unreliable narrator. She was the inspiration for her mother’s successful children’s books – ‘Amazing Amy’ – and proved a chip off the old block when it comes to spinning a yarn.
The parallel stories – super smart plotting – take an intriguing turn when Amy’s bizarre wedding anniversary ritual, an Easter Egg style hunt with cringey clues, becomes something else. Like a message from the dead, Nick follows the latest trail after her disappearance but the clues are now razor sharp, the stuff of a morality tale, providing a foil to the diary that feels far more real but reveals more about Amy turning the screw than Nick; a sinister Pandora moment.
Shifting from femme fatale twists to homme sociopath counters, which make ‘The Big Sleep’ seem comparatively straight-forward, fissures appear that, almost imperceptibly, provide unexpected insights into the marital breakdown; those apparent plot hooks, taking on double meanings in retrospect – it’s masterful. And we are left with the living dead from Ingmar Bergman’s films past as Nick and Amy adopt personae as superficial as a Facebook page facade, giving a feeble approximation of themselves, which social media insists the other would want, demand even, but they simply paper over other cracks; a new self-deception for the 21st century. What could have been a social media satire becomes a real tragedy with Nick and Amy disappearing into a prison of their making; ‘Scenes of a Marriage’ forever frozen.
Those who have seen Pike in ‘Barney’s Version’ will not be surprised by her captivating performance, giving real depth to a ‘stock character’ breaking out from its noir constraints. Affleck does the same and both should be in the award season reckoning. But, there is also some genuine ‘scene stealing’ in a good way from Tyler Perry as Nick’s (social) media savvy lawyer and Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s Ivy League up his own arse ex; both bringing some unexpected humour to the proceedings – pun intended.
It’s a film that defies the 150 minutes running time; positively racing by.
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