‘Gone Girl’ fails to reflect Fincher’s talent

“Gone Girl” moves fast. David Fincher’s tenth film, in which Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, an out-of-work writer and bar owner in Missouri whose wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), goes missing on their fifth wedding anniversary, thereby implicating him in the crime is roughly two and a half hours long but its maker clearly wants us not to feel a second of it. The film’s pace is breakneck from the start: its opening credits sequence flashes its cast, title, and major production players in such quick succession that we can barely read one before the next is visible.

As we move our way through the multi-tiered, snaking narrative, too, the progression from scene to scene feels choppy and over-edited, indications, perhaps, of a rushed shoot (uncharacteristic of Fincher, a famously laborious, scrupulous director) or of a filmmaker trying to squeeze every last sensationalistic drop of intrigue out of his allegedly disposable, airport-grade source material. (The movie was adapted from a massively popular 2012 thriller novel of the same name by the book’s author, Gillian Flynn.) “Gone Girl” is, despite its genre trappings, oddly devoid of Fincher’s usual penchant for rendering scenes of procedure and professional/artistic process with verve and rhythmic, hypnotic style; the filmmaker is fond of watching his skilled artisans (computer hackers, journalists, criminals) do what they do best, completing their tasks with cunning, obsessive talent, Fincher capturing their dirty work in a way that makes it feel dangerous and urgently important.

Perhaps his newest, rabidly anticipated film lacks for procedural urgency (despite its ultrafast pacing) because it isn’t much of a procedural thriller at all, when you get down to figuring out its plot and making its journeys with its characters, in fact resolving its central “whodunit” question halfway through. No, “Gone Girl” is, stylistically speaking, more of a failed, show of pulpy, phantasmagoric narrative and aesthetic excess, whose relationship to reality is just another layer in its aesthetic braveries and surreal sense of deception. Fincher chooses to play it straight, unable to enliven the pulp of the source material with the required visual ambition; this is surely the director’s most boring film to look at, simply put. The cool, industrially-filtered, yellow, grey, and blue-dominated color palette that has become Fincher’s custom is not further developed.

However, Fincher hasn’t failed all of our five senses. The film’s aggressive soundscape is notable and effective, and listening to it feels like we’re hearing a war of dissonant technologies. Buzzing, clanking, and screeching pulsate “Gone Girl[’s]” soundtrack as car and house alarms sound their alerts ominously, and the onslaught of the media hunting and, we gather, exploiting Nick and Amy’s lives reaches an abrasive din. These evocative noises insidiously mix with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score, a beautifully abstracted techno freak-out which, even if laid on a bit thick at times, still potently expresses a kind of modernity breaking down in front of us.

Their score also accentuates our understanding of their work as a bold sensory realization of Nick and Amy’s broken, discordant relationship, all of its reactionary emotional (and, we learn, physical) hostility, resentment, and misunderstanding bottled up and then free to rattle around in our ears and haunt our thoughts. Ross and Reznor conceive of eternal union as an unstoppable barreling forth of motion, sometimes docile and lightly plucking, other times distorted, loud, and cutting, always building and increasing, reaching crescendos of heightened intensity. The elaborate sonic choices of the film, maybe more than any other element, earn “Gone Girl” a place in a directorial oeuvre that’s thick with contemplations of technology and modes of (mal)functioning communication. This is most notable in 2007’s “Zodiac,” still the director’s crowning achievement, but also in 2011’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and 2010’s “The Social Network,” a pair which Reznor and Ross scored and had a hand in shaping.

Much of the film’s attitudes and, especially, its characterizations, falls flat. Its sense of humor and the darkly satirical ways its characters are drawn lack insight and recall Fincher’s 1999 effort, “Fight Club.” The latter film used its exaggerated, almost absurdist characterizations (I think of the opening shot of Edward Norton embracing a fellow member of a support group in a visual statement of knowing grotesquery) to form a coherent perspective on the tendencies of our culture and to ultimately, boldly implicate its audience in its transgressions and satirical observations. The characters in “Gone Girl,” however, feel more like feeble stereotypes positioned more as mean-spirited comic relief than reflexive satirical constructions—I didn’t laugh once at the broadly conceived neighbor character, Ellen (Missi Pyle), a larger-than-life, two-dimensional idea of a gossipy blonde southern woman who exists only so the characters, filmmakers, and audience can all dismiss her with a guffaw (the same goes for the fictional children’s book series the film imagines, “Amazing Amy”).

Holding this new work up against “Fight Club” does show us how far we’ve come as a society. If Affleck’s Nick is Norton’s unnamed narrator and Pike’s Amy is Pitt’s Tyler Durden, a very 21st century notion of matriarchal dominance becomes apparent; Amy has control economically and situationally, and her husband is made to feel mopey and emasculated because of the way the post-recession American economy has left him powerless and without agency. Due to the failure of the film’s striving for relevance and larger social commentary, though, the brunt of what arises from “Gone Girl” is the primal scream of the deranged, off-her-meds housewife and the dejection of the bummed-out modern man. One can’t help but wonder if Fincher is feeling the same malaise, or, per the movie’s unconvincing sense of humor, that this isn’t all just a sick joke.

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