Thursday, 9 October 2014

Gone Girl (2014, US)

GONE GIRL (2014, US)

“I will practice believing my husband loves me but I could be wrong. I feel like something to be jettisoned if necessary. I feel like I could disappear. I've finally realised that I am frightened of my own husband. The man of my dreams, this man of mine might kill me. This man may truly kill me."

Gone Girl is a broody but knowing meditation on modern marriage, murder and media. Anyone looking for a hard-hitting drama will be disappointed, but those looking for shocking, tempestuous thrills and a touch of irony won't be. The script and the leads inject excitement into the film even if they sometimes lack logic. An entertaining if sometimes frustrating film.

Scroll down for the story, the review, “5 things wrong with Gone Girl” and finally, a look at a real life case (how ordering porn channels can make you look guilty).


Genre: Thriller | Director: David Fincher | Writer: Gillian Flynn | Actors: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike et al | Cinematographer: Jeff Cronenweth | Studio: Regency Enterprises and Pacific Standard | Producers: Leslie Dixon, Bruna Papandrea, Reese Witherspoon & Ceán Chaffin

One sentence description: Revolutionary Road meets Fight Club
One (long) sentence review: An enjoyable thriller a little too in love with its twists.
Watch it if…You like murder mysteries with a twist.
Don’t watch it if…You need somebody to root for in a film.
Best thing about the film…Rosamund Pike's performance.

The story
Nick Dunne goes out for a drink with his sister at his bar, the ironically named 'The Bar', returning a couple of hours later to his house to find his wife, Amy, missing. He then discovers an upturned table, a scene of struggle and blood spatter. His wife is missing, but her bag is present. He calls the Police. What happens next is a modern tale of tragedy with a twist – Nick receives the sympathy of the town and the local media as his wife is confirmed missing.

However, Nick’s awkward manner and failure to defend himself vigorously leads the same parties who felt his pain (or capitalised on his tragic fame) to start suspecting him. Then the news comes out that he’s been cheating on Amy with one of his University students and suddenly, Nick looks guilty. But as they say, in David Fincher movies, all is not as it seems!


It turns out that Amy (who had a famous children’s book series based on her) had actually planned to frame Nick because she felt deceived by him about his personality, his professional prospects and quite simply because she was bored of pretending to be somebody who enjoyed her life. She blamed him for all this, and in her unhinged mind, this was enough to want to send Nick to jail (death row, even).

Amy fabricates a series of suspicious events - pretending to be pregnant, for example, blood splatter on the walls, large credit card debt, getting Nick to increase the payout for life insurance in Amy’s name, etc. Amy even builds up an entirely parallel life to Nick’s in order to place Nick under suspicion when he has to reveal that despite being her husband, he knew nothing of Amy’s life. Amy ‘escapes’ to a motel, where she subsequently has her money stolen by some trashy drifters. In her desperation, she calls Desi, an obsessed ex-boyfriend, who happens to be rich. Desi takes Amy to a remote hi-tech ‘lodge’, where he makes it clear to her that he wants to play house with her.

Meanwhile, Nick (and his loyal twin sister) decides to get himself a star husband-defending attorney (Tyler Perry) who then embarks on a media campaign to portray Nick in a more sympathetic light. Nick does an interview with a serious chat-show host, where he admits to being a bad, cheating husband, but crucially, not a wife-murderer.

Back in the lodge, after watching Nick on TV, Amy decides to go back to him, but in a way that explained her absence. So using the cameras in the lodge, she frames Desi as a kidnapper/abuser, kills him “in defence” using a box-cutter, and returns home to the relief of all. Except Nick, who now has to live with this monster. Oh, and she’s pregnant. For real. Moral of the story: dispose of your semen properly.

Hmm, interesting…
Tyler Perry (Tanner Bolt) did not know who David Fincher was, despite Fincher having massive box office success with Se7en, Fight Club and Zodiac.

This is what Tyler Perry looks like in movies, usually:

Reese Witherspoon produced this film, which is interesting as she could easily have played the lead role (or possibly 5 years ago?).

The Review
There is a moment in this film when the police uncover a diary belonging to the missing Amy Dunne, a diary that lays bare all of her husband’s abuse and cack-handedness. At that moment, you think, “I know what this is. This is a marriage drama”. Except it isn’t – it has to turn itself inside out a couple of times before you really know what it is. That, in a nutshell, is a review of this film – an apt pupil trying just a little too hard. Nonetheless, it is still a very thrilling ride executed quite well.

Based on a Gillian Flynn novel, this film touches on many subjects: marriage, infidelity, small-town America, obsession, conventional media, social media, public opinion and, of course, murder. But of course, it isn’t really about those topics, even if they are referenced for a brief while: this film is about surprises and showing up the usual tropes in public life for the sham they are, sometimes.

For example, Ben Affleck (Nick Dunne) and Pike’s (Amy Dunne) characters outwardly look like the perfect couple, but by the end of the film we know that one of them is a monster and the other merely emotionally maladjusted. David Fincher is a man who likes pulling the rug out from under his audience, and he does so in this film even before we’ve come to the cinema theatre: the poster. The sight of a forlorn and lonely Ben Affleck is meant to imply that Nick Dunne is the centre of the film. But he isn’t – Pike’s character is the crux of the drama, even if Affleck occupies more screentime.

What we see about Nick is a disengaged, awkward man who is running from pillar to post in trying to unravel his wife’s disappearance. On the other hand, Amy is a multi-layered and complex, if flawed, character. [The Fourth Wall's ladyfriend found fault with the psychological portrayal of Amy, but that would be a deeply psychological matter]. Ironically, the gone girl of the title is the one who really holds the story together. Although the film involves a reasonably large cast of characters and national press coverage, in some ways it is a very personal film. Nowhere is this more obvious than the searing and honest critique delivered through Amy’s monologue, from Flynn’s novel, when she explains the ‘cool girl’ phenomenon:

“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot…Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.

Men actually think this girl exists...You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them…And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be…(How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like: “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because “I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”)”

This can be read as a commentary on the treatment of women in popular media, particularly the "manic pixie dream girl" trope ( that some women aspire to. Of course, it's a mirage - nobody can achieve this in reality, nor should they want to. Working around our flaws is one of adulthood's main learnings. In a similar way, Amazing Amy placed very high expectations on Amy, causing a build-up of resentment inside her, infecting her from within.

Pike and Affleck give reasonably convincing performances, although Pike occasionally seems like she's struggling to keep up her East Coast American accent. Meanwhile, Affleck just looks listless, although this is clearly deliberate. Batman and Superman can't come soon enough, it would seem.

Gone Girl is a classic example of a film where almost none of the characters are likeable (exceptions being Nick's sister Margo and Detective Boney), while the establishment itself is shown to be craven and given to intrigue. Note how the national media only gets interested when it looks like there is a wife-murder angle.

Fincher and Flynn probably feel quite smug in the way they manipulated the audience – you feel sorry for Affleck, then you feel angry (under the impression that he cheated on his wife and then killed her) and finally a different feeling altogether when the main twist is revealed. Watching him melt under the glare of the national spotlight was satisfying. However, what stops the film from feeling like a full character study and more of a lurid, erotic kidnap/murder fantasy is some missed beats: who is Nick Dunne? It's almost worth watching him for an hour to see his state of mind. Or perhaps a better explanation of how Amy's personality changed. On a more pragmatic note, how could Nick miss all those purchases on their credit card? (You’d think a cash-strapped couple would watch their money more closely than most).

The film has some atmospheric cinematography, giving it a sense of empty, ungoverned spaces where, say, a man could get rid of his wife’s body without being seen. Try smuggling a body out of a flat in the middle of Manhattan. Films like Saw and Wrong Turn series have long traded on the rural/small-town terrors and this film is no different.

Speaking of terrors - Neil Patrick Harris’s creepery in this role is somewhat over the top, particularly as he explains all the cameras all over his hi-tech “lodge” and his time with Amy (“octopus and scrabble”), which might as well have come directly from a HIMYM episode. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he was having a bit too much fun with his role.

I must admit, the Margo character (Nick’s sister) grew on me as the film wore on – she took on the viewer’s role for most of the film, laughing, crying and getting angry at the same things as us. She also got some great lines in the process (“Whoever took her is bound to bring her back”). The Tanner Bolt character was mostly by-the-book, also with a few good lines – “Whatever they found, I think it's safe to assume that it is very bad”.

On another note, from my memory, this film passes the Bechdel test – two women (Boney and Margo) talk about something other than a man (Amy). In fact, almost all conversations in this film happen to be about a woman.

The film has an obsession with how public opinion swings around the central characters: if it’s not the relentless opining on twitter and Facebook, it’s the nauseating and highly opinionated “news” anchors with a tenuous grasp on facts and the definition of slander (anchor Ellen Abbott). All this serves to make the film feel quite claustrophobic, despite the wide open Missouri spaces we see all over the film.

Spoilery discussion
The central twist is somewhat problematic – how was she able to execute her complicated plan so well? One of the film’s weaknesses is that it borrows directly from the source material – why did we need the monologue from Pike’s character explaining everything? Why couldn’t we have simply we been shown her travelling across the state and shacking up in a motel, for us to put the pieces together?

The twists are enjoyable, if not wholly convincing – turning genre on its head is always interesting and injects a layer of excitement into every frame of the story. The realisation of Amy’s plan suddenly brought everything into a new light: the blood splatter, the friend whom Nick knew nothing about, etc. It also put into sharp contrast the Rashomon-like parallax of views, given that we’re almost programmed to assume a woman’s voice reading out a diary must be true, when in reality it is a well-rehearsed set of lies.

What is particularly satisfying is the conclusion, which is steeped in irony: Nick Dunne must now live in terror of his wife, the same wife who wrote of living in fear of Nick. This almost-comedic subversion is highly satisfying.

However, is all this convincing? A large number of moving parts had to work well - as mentioned by an officer, why would Nick leave the 'diary' only singed and not fully burned? There is a red flag in mystery stories and that is the surfeit of clues...if there are too many clues, something's wrong. Sadly, just as Detective Boney was putting it all together, Fincher et al surprise us again by bringing Amy back into the marital fold. As Flynn said in an interview recently, in any other Director’s hands, this could’ve become a Police procedural, but Fincher’s heart isn’t in that place. Fincher wants shocks and genre-subversion.

However, this only works well when the motivations of the characters are clear. Why does Amy come back? Is it a bizarre act of love on her part? Surely she would’ve thought there’s no coming back after what she’d done. She’d have to explain the credit card debt, the life insurance policy change, etc. Why bother? The answer is to make her so insane that all reasoning is irrelevant. And that, my friends, is when a film is prevented from scoring more than 7/10. And so it is.


Five things that are wrong with Gone Girl (SPOILERS)
(1) What was the point of building up credit card debt? Wasn’t Amy’s trust fund empty anyway? And the Life insurance? But then why pretend she’s missing when she’s really dead?
(2) How could Nick miss all those purchases on their credit card? (You’d think a cash-strapped couple would watch their money more closely than most).
(3) Why would Amy come back to Nick if she has to explain the credit card debt, the life insurance change, etc? Would it all be forgotten in the relief?
(4) What was the point of showing the Police’s investigation if Amy was just going to return and make it all moot?
(5) Doesn’t Desi have security at his lodge? Wouldn’t they respond?

Nods to real life – or how ordering porn channels can make you look guilty

Depressingly, there are plenty of real life murders to draw a parallel to, particularly the sad business of Laci Peterson’s death in 2002. The context is the same – the husband (Scott) raises the alarm that his wife is missing but is eventually convicted of her murder, although no concrete evidence was found. In fact, although there was a huge amount of circumstantial evidence, Scott was essentially convicted of being a cad, and a bounder. Some salient features:

1) On December 24, 2002, Laci Peterson was reported missing from the Modesto, California home she shared with Scott.
(2) She was eight months pregnant
(3) He had numerous extramarital affairs, most recently with a massage therapist named Amber Frey. She approached police about Peterson, whom she had just begun to date, after discovering he was actually married to a missing woman.
(4) Laci's family…later said that they were angered not by the affair, but that he had told Frey that he'd "lost" Laci and that he would be spending his first Christmas without her — 14 days before she disappeared. To the Rochas, this meant that he had already planned to kill her long before her disappearance.
(5) Peterson was arrested by San Diego police on April 18, 2003, in La Jolla, California, in the parking lot of the Torrey Pines Golf Course, where he…was in possession of the following non-golf specific items(

“approximately $1,000 in cash
four mobile phones
multiple credit cards belonging to various members of his family
an array of camping equipment, including knives, implements for warming food, tents and tarpaulins and a water purifier
nine pairs of footwear (shoes, boots, flip flops)
a T-handled double-edged dagger
a MapQuest map to Frey's workplace (printed the previous day)
a shovel
2 ropes
200 blister packs of sleeping pills
his brother's driver's license”

(6)    “He added two pornographic television channels to his cable service only days after his wife's disappearance; the prosecution suggested that this meant he knew she would not be returning home”
(7)    And finally, while in prison, he’s received two offers of marriage, from women apparently not put off by his conviction for killing his wife). (

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