David Fincher enters the 2014 Oscar race with a broken foot and Scotch on his breath. Gone Girl tops my list of Year's Worst films, and I'm still in disbelief that the force behind Se7en and The Social Network delivered such listless garbage. If you're a fan of Gillian Flynn's best-seller, prepare to be entertained (I guess). If, like me, you've only seen the adaptation's trailer, steady yourself for some dashed hopes. Marketed as a roiling cauldron of domestic-violence and mystery, Gone Girl boils down to a tone-deaf stab at black comedy: it's Basic Instinct as an art-house sitcom; Schinlder's List with slide whistles.
It's my own damned fault. Like the perpetrator of Flynn's missing-wife plot, Fincher and company leave clues right out in the open. When a host of comic actors popped up, I thought, "How nice to see Tyler Perry, Casey Wilson, and Missi Pyle working on their dramatic skills!" I was met instead with a gaggle of cartoon characters: the slick, white-collar lawyer; the obnoxious, redneck neighbor; the Nancy Grace-style news-magazine host. Ben Affleck plays the object of their suspicion, a wealthy-by-marriage writing teacher suspected of doing something awful to his not-quite-beloved Rosamund Pike. Sadly, he takes the role seriously, in an off-putting universe of shrill Muppets and black holes where characterization should be.
Like a fool, I trusted Fincher (and Flynn, who also wrote the screenplay) to deliver the taut Whodunnit promised in the previews. You might argue that I should have A) read the book, and B) not held the film accountable for its marketing. The first point is moot, as movies should stand on their own. The second will only get you so far down the logic path: one shouldn't sit down to watch Lincoln, for example, and wind up with Movie 43.
Indeed, Fincher believes, I assume, that he's fashioned a black comedy about the tribulations of marriage. In practice, it's an uneven farce that would stink of incompetence were it not for the brand names involved. Nick (Affleck) and Amy (Pike) are characters defined not by events that we see, but by narration and dialogue that is ascribed to them. Their past and present meld together as Amy's "Dear Diary" flashbacks intersect with the present-day disappearance investigation, but there's no transition between love-struck courtship and bitter married couple. They love each other, then they don't. Nick is a nice-guy slacker (except when he's not), and then a scheming, physically abusive creep (sometimes). Amy is at once brilliant and the kind of idiot who gets caught with thousands of dollars in cash on her person--twice.
These aren't people. They're pawns in a tolerance game perpetrated on the audience by Flynn and Fincher. How many plot twists can we accept; how un-relatable can two people possibly be; how flat and un-engaging can a cinematic mastermind's latest film look--before throngs of opening-weekend suckers call "Bullshit"?
Gone Girl is like a bad Law & Order two-parter that learned viewers will abandon at the third commercial break. Like a hundred (or hundred-thousand, for all I know) semi-procedurals before it, the film hits us with red-herring suspects, red-herring motives, and even red-herring omniscience--all of which hinge on a big, third-act reveal. Fincher's film has about four major reveals, and each one is so gob-smackingly ridiculous that I constantly found myself wishing the material were in better hands.
As a David Fincher fan, I can't believe I just typed that and didn't delete it.
Had Fincher and his team settled on a consistent tone, they might have made the film that's currently being hyped. At every turn, the drama is undermined by "snappy" dialogue that sounds like Kevin Smith copying the His Girl Friday screenplay while zonked out of his mind. The comedy depends on archetypes neither rooted in reality nor the story they're involved with (Patrick Fugit plays a young cop who hates Nick and believes he's guilty--for reasons neither stated nor implied). Like The Boxtrolls, Gone Girl features a lot of tedious "business". Though substantial in terms of run-time, it does little to hide the filmmakers' deist approach--dropping their central secret halfway through, and then walking away from the next hour-and-fifteen minutes.
Even my one glimmer of hope was clouded by ambivalence towards everything that had come before. Late in the film, Fincher stages a grisly, yet unsurprising murder (especially for fans of the aforementioned Basic Instinct). These darkly gleeful two minutes douse the screen in buckets of blood and excitement, both of which drain away at the scene change.
When I say that Gone Girl is one of the year's worst movies, I don't mean that it's technically deficient. Excepting the writing and the director's sensibilities regaring his actors' performances, most everything else here is top-notch. Fincher brings back many of his Girl with the Dragon Tattoo cohorts, such as cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, editor Kirk Baxter, and composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. But they're given far less room to play than even on their previous book adaptation--which had already been adapted for film. No, the material is the culprit here, abetted by a dependably exciting director whose wicked, inventive sense of style seems to have momentarily vanished.