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Film Review: Gone Girl

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★★★★★

Occasionally you get a novel that is like a flame to a can of petrol. Suddenly your friendship group, your Facebook newsfeed and the ever-tweeting twitersphere are full of people sharing opinions on the book. Everyone is talking about it. Everyone seems to have read it or is planning to read it. This is what happened with Gone Girl when it exploded onto the literary scene in 2012 (it went big in the UK in 2013).

In response, Twentieth Century Fox and executive producer Reese Witherspoon have busied away and offered up a film version amazingly quickly. And was it worth the (relatively short) wait? Yes. It definitely was.

Although there is a lot about it I enjoyed and admire, I thought Gillian Flynn's novel was a flawed gem. I loved the twists and turns but found the ending disappointing, as if the story was heading towards an epic conclusion only to finish on more of an awkward cough than a screeching finale.  

David Fincher, whose films range from the brutal and strong (Seven) to the weak (Panic Room) to the mawkish and pretentious (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) manages the script (written by Flynn) superbly. Since The Social Network, Fincher seems to have settled on a trademark style involving low-level lighting, static camera work, beautiful cinematography using a RED digital camera and an electronic score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross murmuring around in the background. He employs all those things here, largely to considerable effect, though I feel an instrumental score would be added more than Reznor and Ross’s efforts – although they have their talents, a lot of their work here sounds like a jumble of sound effects sourced from MacBook pro notifications.

The story concerns the bitter relationship of a married couple, Amy (Rosumund Pike) and Nick (Ben Affleck): a relationship that is thrust into the public eye when Amy goes missing. The evidence starts to suggest she has been seriously harmed or murdered and the suspicion settles on Nick. Affleck gets his character entirely right. Nick is a weak, drippy man who occasionally lets a dark side stir up and come to the surface. Rosumund Pike, meanwhile, has a very tough job of playing a character with multiple levels (levels I will avoid explaining for fear of spoiling something important). She does it very well indeed and I was reminded of Rooney Mara’s Oscar-worthy turn in Side Effects. Both have the power to capture your trust and manipulate your emotions.

The standout scene involves a hellish, shocking sequence featuring a lot of blood and a box-cutter. It’s a gory masterpiece in itself, an outrageous moment of splatter-horror and supremely intelligent storytelling. Fincher plays with the explicitness and harnesses its effect in the same way he has used restraint in the past (such as the hideous reveal at the end of Seven). By showing, rather than shying away, it provides a necessary jolt of power to the film that sends ripples throughout its final act.

Gone Girl is a magnificently compelling (though, crucially, patient and thoughtful) adult cocktail of sex, cruelty and deception. Although the previous rumours about the ending being changed have turned out to be nonsense, the way the film draws to a close works brilliantly onscreen. We have here a rare situation where the film is better than the work upon which it was based. This may well be the film of the year.

Gone Girl (2014), directed by David Fincher, is released in UK cinemas by Twentieth Century Fox, Certificate 18. Watch the trailer below:

 




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