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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Gone Girl and the Legacy of David Fincher

In my mind, there are two main directors who have heavily influenced my generation, Generation X- Christopher Nolan and David Fincher. Nolan got a late start and didn't hit his stride until the mid-2000's, when we were in college and beyond, as it was David Fincher that affected us early on. He freaked us out early with Se7en as we asked ourselves what was in the box and it was Fight Club a few years later that filmed just exactly what a "generation of men raised by women" felt like. After Fight Club in 1999, Fincher entertained us (Panic Room), challenged our notion of storytelling (Zodiac), and pandered to the elderly / artsy-fartsy (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). But once Nolan solidified his prime and made the case that he's Gen X's one-true director, Fincher released The Social Network and sucked us right back in. A story like The Social Network shouldn't have worked. It was a gimmick concept (the story of Facebook) being told over two different depositions. Yet David Fincher managed to make it work. In ten years, we will all be asking ourselves how The Social Network lost to The King's Speech at the Oscars the same way we ask ourselves how Goodfellas lost to Dances With Wolves. We will cry out what a shame it is that Fincher never won Best Director at the Academy Awards the same way we all did with Martin Scorsese before 2005.

However, the release of 2014's Gone Girl proves that Christopher Nolan will always have a leg up on Fincher. Nolan's Interstellar gets released later this year, and that could completely change mine and my generation's perception on him, but Nolan's stretch run of Memento, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and Inception is a run that might never be broken. Fincher has had the same highs as Nolan and Fincher's floor is higher than Nolan (Fincher has never made a movie as "bad" as Insomnia or The Dark Knight Rises), but I'm very doubtful that Fincher will ever have the same consistency that Nolan has. To David Fincher's credit, his films are always interesting and watchable. Gone Girl falls along those lines- interesting and enjoyable, yet it's not even close to becoming an instant classic.


Gone Girl follows the investigation of the disappearance and possible murder of Amy Elliot Dunne (Rosamund Pike) as the police suspect her husband, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), is the man responsible. The commercials and trailers certainly make it seem like that's what the movie will be- a whodunnit mystery. For about the first hour of the film or so, I was thoroughly engrossed in the mystery of it all. Even though I knew Ben Affleck's character didn't commit the murder, I still was second guessing myself constantly. For all the shit that we've piled on Affleck over the year's (albeit a lot of it was well deserved), even during his performances during his directorial days (Argo), he proves he can motherfucking act and he gives an Oscar nomination worthy performance here. Affleck's stiffness and somewhat lack of charisma works perfectly for this character who is perceived for not caring about the disappearance of his wife.

I really liked the first half of Gone Girl as both a straight murder mystery as well as a commentary on "fame" and the 24/7 news cycle we live in. Missi Pyle plays a Nancy Grace esque TV pundit who unapologetically convinces America that Nick Dunne killed his wife. Ben Affleck's character gives a speech during a midnight vigil and Fincher briefly s.hows two young girls discussing Affleck's character. One girl is convinced Affleck is innocent while the other one is convinced that he's guilty but it's OK "because he's cute". All of these are little nuanced things show us the negative aspects of our current culture.

I was also  very pleased with the role of women in Nick Dunne's life. Throughout the first half of the film, Affleck's character is surrounded by women. His only confidant is his twin sister, he's being investigated by a female detective, women pundits are the ones judging him on TV, and he's accused of killing his wife. I enjoyed how Fincher explored all of these different relationships.

But then the second half came along.

You find out half way though the film that Amy Dunne staged the entire thing as revenge to get back at her husband, Amy finds out that Nick is cheating in her with a 20 year old, so her revenge is to stage her murder and make sure her husband gets convicted and sentenced to death. It's an absolutely insane plan that sounds like it came out of a Shonda Rhimes show. It's fucking ridiculous and pulled me out of the entire film.

I know that second half story line comes directly from the Gillian Flynn book (who also wrote the film), but that doesn't change the utter insanity of what it is. Grantland's Pulitzer Prize winning film critic Wesley Morris explains it best at how awful the second half story line is:

Flynn's novel was out to critique one fiction genre and help consecrate another. The structure of the first part of the book relied heavily on Amy's writing. Every other chapter was a diary entry that told a darkening single-girl-finds-the-man-of-her-dreams story. Amy whipped up chatty, involved tirades against men who expect too much of women and the women who change personalities to suit a man. Flynn appeared to be mocking the moony, plucky, desperate heroines of so-called chick lit. She bleeds the genre into a grisly crime thriller, a genre that she- and Fincher- seems to trust more. But to get from Bridget Jones's Diary to The Last Seduction, Flynn can't simply twist the plot; she has to break it. The book never achieves the right angle on Nick and Amy's marriage for true social satire to take hold. It gets riled up and turns psychotic. You keep reading in a kind of stunned shock. You can't believe this is where Flynn has decided to go.

I couldn't believe this is where Fincher and the movie decided to go. To turn Amy into the biggest psychopath and the most calculating human being on the planet was just ludicrous to me.

Yet out of all the craziness that ensues, David Fincher put his stamp on the film and refuses to let you escape the movie-going experience. Fincher is a master at setting up shots, and even the reveal of the murder mystery plot as Amy drives away into the sunset was magical to watch- even as it shatters the glass on what made the first half so good. The scene where Amy slices Neil Patrick Harris' character's throat was stunning and a scene I'll probably never forget. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross help establish Fincher's themes and mood in a similar way they did on The Social Network with their score. There's still enough of "Fincher" in the second half of the film that I never turned to look at my watch during the full 2 hour and 25 minute run time. It's the Fincher-ness of the film as a whole that even though there were huge problems with the script, I would still recommend you go out and see this film. In the hands of a lesser director, Gone Girl would be an absolute pile of garbage and most certainly would not be Certified Fresh. I think that goes to show you not only what a terrible script and story Gillian Flynn penned, but what an amazing director David Fincher is and can be.



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