The Gone Show
An everyday scene from a typical English workplace:
Your Correspondent (spying a colleague with whom he is on friendly terms): 'Oh, hi [name of guilty party redacted] – how was your weekend?'
Colleague: 'All right. Went to the cinema.'
Your Correspondent: 'Oh yes, [other colleague's name] told me she saw you. Gone Girl, right? What did you think?'
Colleague: 'It was okay, but I was surprised that [MASSIVE SPOILER redacted].'
Your Correspondent: 'AUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH'
I spent the rest of the day following her around shouting 'Rosebud is a sledge! Bruce Willis is a ghost! Darth Vader is his father!' but the damage was done. I suppose it serves me right for not going to see Gone Girl at the weekend, but – hey! There was a Gerry Anderson retrospective in the next screen! What was I supposed to do?
Recent studies have suggested that having a story spoiled for you may not in fact impair enjoyment that much, so I suppose I can treat Gone Girl as an experiment to this end. (Of course I went to see it anyway.) Given that a big adaptation like this is relying on people who've read the book turning up to see it, it's possible that the makers may have been bearing in mind the fact that much of the audience may have already known the story: it's certainly not entirely dependent on shocks and surprises to work as a film.
David Fincher's film, based on the book by Gillian Flynn, primarily concerns the marriage between Nick Dunne (Ben 'I'm respectable again and loving it' Affleck) and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike). Having met and got wed in New York, where both were writers, economic and family issues have led to their moving back to Nick's home town in Missouri. But life has been tough regardless.
And it gets tougher. On the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick returns home to find signs of a struggle and Amy nowhere to be found. He calls the police, like anyone would, and does his best to answer their questions, also like anyone would. But what rapidly becomes apparent is that things that are fairly unremarkable in the everyday running of a wobbling marriage can be horribly suspicious when viewed by a police detective looking for foul play. As some facts Nick would rather keep secret come to light, suspicion builds in the police, the media, and those around him – has he in fact done his wife in?
Well, obviously I can't tell you that, but what I will say is that, before it plays its cards, the film does a very good job of making Ben (look, I'm entitled to call him that, we go back a long way – I actually paid to see Paycheck and Jersey Girl, for crying out loud) look like an ambiguous figure. And fortunately, the film does not hold back all its revelations to the end – halfway through it transitions from being a genuine mystery to an equally accomplished, and possibly even more gripping, psychological thriller.
I must confess that I did enjoy the first part of the film a lot – less obviously plot-driven, it allows the film to comment en passant on a whole range of topics. Some of these, such as the degree to which two people can ever really know each other, and the demands of marriage, are quite universal, but others will, I suspect, make this film of particular interest to the social historians of the future, particularly in its handling of the media – both the influence of social media, and the phenomenon of trial-by-TV – and its commentary on the sheer social damage caused by the economic collapse of the late 2000s. The shadow of the credit crunch hangs over this film like a fallout cloud, for money problems are at the heart of Nick and Amy's travails – what happens to a marriage when one partner is forced to become totally dependent on the other for an income? What's it like to feel trapped in a marriage by your own pre-nup agreement?
That said, the second half of the film is a terrifically enjoyable thriller, perhaps surprisingly so given it contains some tough material: there are F-bombs and more aplenty, some shocking man-on-woman violence, and one sequence of grand guignol gore that is all the more appalling for coming seemingly out of thin air. Even worse than this, perhaps, is the general theme of the film, which is bleak, bordering on the nasty – it makes marriage look like a blood sport, like something men and women do to each other rather than together.
That it works as it does is mainly down to Fincher's skill in controlling the story and stopping its more startling aspects from seeming too prominent, at least until the audience has become properly invested in the characters. Without going into too much detail, this is a story which makes some pretty big asks of the viewer, but Fincher makes you agree to them quite cheerfully.
He's helped by a really good cast: this is a story with a lot of significant characters, and they are all portrayed absolutely impeccably. You can instantly believe in Tyler Perry's superstar attorney, Kim Dicken's cautious detective, or Carrie Coon's concerned sibling (well, apart from the fact that she's nearly a decade younger than her supposed twin – oh, Hollywood!). But that said, the film really depends on its two leads: Rosamund Pike isn't the most obvious choice for the leading lady of film of this prominence, but she grabs a good part and runs like the Devil with it. Ben, meanwhile, gives a properly rounded movie-star leading man performance, quite as good as anything else he's ever done. Given that Ben is currently heading for the big screen as a moderately unlikely and distinctly controversial Batman, I suspect all his performances until then are going to be scrutinised for their potential Wayneyness: well, here he delivers his customary wit and charm, but also the ability to seem completely ambiguous (if not actually chilly), not to mention a capacity for brutal rage. I think Ben's going to be a very different sort of Batman, and potentially a very good one.
That's for the future, however. For now, Gone Girl is a very accomplished and entertaining film, if one that should leave the viewer uneasy and unsettled. In a way it's almost a shame it didn't come out later in the year, because it's certainly good enough to be a contender for major awards come next spring. The question is simply whether or not it will still be remembered then. A shame, as everyone involved is on top form.