We know from Zodiac that David Fincher has a feel for tense procedural thrillers; we know from Se7en that he has an eye for macabre detail; we know from The Social Network that he has an ear for cleverer-than-thou comic banter. In Gone Girl, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s pulpy crime novel of the same name, he tries to deploy all three, with mixed success.
Unsurprisingly given the source material, it’s the thriller element that dominates. When Amy (Rosamund Pike), a writer stuck in an unhappy marriage, disappears in strange circumstances, her placid husband Nick (Ben Affleck) comes under suspicion.
Technically, the film is a knockout. The pacey editing, desaturated palette and throbbing score (courtesy of Fincher regulars Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) generate a disquieting atmosphere. Once again, Fincher proves a deft hand at ratcheting up suspense through small details: a splash of red here, a meaningful glance there.
Yet there’s plenty of room for humour. In some scenes, particularly those featuring Nick’s lawyer (a genial Tyler Perry), the dialogue crackles with wit. As the press enters the picture, the script introduces an element of satire that swells into a hilarious excoriation of the media. A shrill Fox-esque news channel launches a smear campaign against Nick, distorting the truth when, in principle, it should be doing the opposite. But this being a Fincher film, the truth is a slippery customer, and nobody is to be trusted – especially if they happen to be a she.
Which brings me to the most troubling aspect of Gone Girl. If I didn’t already know that the source novel (and indeed the script) was penned by a female, I would have mistaken it for the work of a smouldering misogynist. Almost all the female characters are deceitful, manipulative, and at worst psychopathic; only Nick’s caring sister Margo offers any redemption for womankind. The men, though hardly angels, are generally let off the hook. Most worryingly, in a scene that involves a rape accusation, the film seems to suggest that a woman’s word is best presumed false until proven true.
Ultimately, Gone Girl is a curious mix of classiness and silliness. It is a supreme exercise in style and suspense, and is carried by some strong performances. But strip these away and you’re left with a low-grade plot perched on a high concept. Fun, sure – but not as smart as it thinks it is.