By Miles Jackson
David Fincher’s latest, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel, switches genres about three times during its runtime between riveting mystery thriller, sociopolitical satire and psychosexual black comedy, occasionally juggling all three of these at once. Much like its subject matter – marriage – the film is a complicated, messy affair, hurling between vastly different viewpoints, allegiances swapping every minute. At times, it’s raucous, at others, it’s soul-crushing.
The film flitters between two different perspectives – Ben Affleck’s Nick Dunne, a “salt-of-the-earth Missouri boy” as he deems himself whose running a struggling bar following the collapse of his writing career post-Recession, and Rosamund Pike’s Amy Elliott-Dunne, the inspiration for a series of popular children’s books and a now bored housewife who recounts the turmoil of the Dunne’s marriage through a series of flashbacks presented as diary entries. As the film opens, Amy has gone missing and Nick is encroached into a series of ever-incriminating pieces of evidence that suggest he murdered his wife. Along the way, the film examines the place of marriage in a modern world as well as the crippling effect of the Recession on ordinary Americans.
It’s in these early scenes that the narrative flourishes, offering an engrossing mystery with all evidence pointed towards Nick, played with aplomb by Affleck who succeeds in constantly straddling the line between innocent and guilty, toying with the audience’s fidelity towards the character. It’s a subtle, nuanced performance. Pike, too, is stellar in her role as the elusive, seemingly carefree Amy who gets far more to chew on as the film progresses – she’s irresistible in the film’s final half hour.
It’s a shame, then, that after a magnificent first act filled with intrigue and political subtext the quality of the film falls sharply. The central mystery resolves itself after about an hour and what’s left isn’t anywhere near as captivating, the conflict set up being fairly predictable in its course. Additionally, in the final act, the film begins to embrace its own ridiculousness, adopting a devilishly funny tone and becoming something of a darkly comic, campy sexual thriller reminiscent of fare such as Fatal Attraction. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it robs the film of the shrewd political message hinted at in the opening act, opting instead for a wildly unsubtle and ultimately rather unoriginal stab at the mass media rather than attempting to follow through on the far more interesting and unique commentary established at the beginning of the film.
That’s not to say that this isn’t a well-made, enticing thriller well-worth seeing, bolstered by Fincher’s beautiful direction – inky blacks blotch the screen, accompanied by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ jumpy, electric score. But it’s disappointing that the script drops the ball quite so spectacularly after the opening hour. What we’re left with is an enthralling opening that ultimately amounts to a sly, often funny if fairly rote thriller. It doesn’t match up to Fincher’s best work, then, but it’s certainly entertaining.
Gone Girl is out on DVD on February 2nd.