Saturday, October 11, 2014
On the Big Screen: GONE GIRL (2014)
The fall movie season for 2014 is under way, and it has a formidable fall from last year to live up to. This season, when studios aspire nearly as much to awards as to ticket sales, opened with the new film from David Fincher, an adaptation by author Gillian Flynn of her ongoing best-selling novel. Fincher has made some of the most memorable and some of the plain best films of the last twenty years, with Zodiac and The Social Network my personal favorites and the earlier Se7en and Fight Club enduring as pop-culture milestones. He's also made one film, The Game, that left me wanting to throw things at the movie screen. Gone Girl never infuriated me that much but it did annoy me a bit. As everyone must know by now, it deals with a man (Ben Affleck) whose wife (Rosamund Pike) disappears, an event for which he is blamed as her assumed murderer. He becomes "the most hated man in America," condemned in advance by a Nancy Grace-like TV host, if not also by the local police. His sudden infamy makes him part a Hitchcockian hero, and part Capraesque: a cinderella man in peril. The spectacle of his media ordeal is the best part of the film, but Fincher keeps cutting away to flashbacks narrated by Pike from her character's diary, charting the rise and fall of the couple's romance. This sort of back-and-forth filmmaking grows tiresome, and in this particular case it proves to be a cheat, a trick on the audience rather than on any of the characters in the film. I sort of saw that twist coming, but the idea that Flynn and Fincher were trying to trick me turned me against the movie, which visually is a fine thing to watch. It's recognizably a Fincer film, and that's a good thing inclusive of the Trent Reznor-Atticus Cross score. But the film gets out of his control as Flynn's story grows more trashily over the top. At first I thought we'd get something in the Fargo line, in which a master criminal proves less masterful than assumed, but that idea goes off the rails once we enter Neil Patrick Harris's mansion and see his clueless suitor victimized in extravagantly gory fashion. By this point the movie has become a tale of implausible obsessions and contrived motivations anticlimaxing in a non-ending that leaves our hero looking contemptible. It's a thankless part for Affleck, yet one that panders to lingering contempt for the actor-director. A genuine comic highlight of the picture plays off the Affleck stereotype: his lawyer (Tyler "Madea" Perry in a rare foray outside his own cinematic universe) while rehearsing our hero for his first TV interview hits him in the face with a gummy bear. He'll do that every time Affleck looks or sounds smug, and despite our hero's best efforts he ends up pummeled with candy. That lighter tone might have come in handy later. Instead, the prevailing tone is of misanthropy -- not merely misogyny as some knee-jerk critics claim -- unredeemed by wit. I've kept this short in an attempt to avoid spoilers, since there's no reason to see it other than to be surprised by its twists. I suppose I could spoil it if I wanted people to stay away, but viewers, especially those familiar with the novel, may be more sympathetic with Flynn's mood and should judge Fincher's film for themselves. I found it a disappointing start to the fall season, but the posters and trailers at the theater promise better things to come.