Last seen trying to marry the chilly world of Stockholm to his Hollywood smarts in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, David Fincher returns to the director's chair this week with Gone Girl. However, given the relatively subdued reaction to Stieg Larsson's Millennium-series Hollywood kick-off a few years ago, we now find the auteur somewhat on the backfoot. For a director so boldly subversive, known for tweaking at the seams of the fabric of society, Dragon Tattoo didn't exactly set the word on fire at the box office, as producers had hoped.
So, this week, with his latest effort, what sort of Fincher will we get for his 10th film? Will the itchy auteur return, he who wove together the brilliance found in the likes of Se7en and Fight Club? Or will we have another serving of light froth that was the overlong and unbearable The Curious Case of Benjamin Button? Well, the end result resides somewhere in between. But, as with any of his films, the world of cinema is undoubtedly a better place with another addition to his oeuvre
Here Ben Affleck steps into the shoes of former New York journalist Nick, a native Missourian who has been given the elbow due to the economy and finds himself back in his hometown, having brought his somewhat reluctant wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) along with him. Things very promptly turn pear-shaped for their domestic life when Amy vanishes without a trace on their fifth wedding anniversary, leaving Nick as the number one suspect.
Based on Gillian Flynn's bestseller (who also adapted it for the screen) the film flip-flops from one time period to another, as various characters emerge and reveal truths that peel back another layer of the mystery.
Gone Girl (K16)
20,000 Days on Earth
Ulvilan Murhamysteeri (K16)
Things kick off with an almost unreal edge. Fincher stages scenes like a bad soap opera, as often staid and unrealistic flashbacks tell the story of the couple's fairytale meeting. Voice-overs add to the surreal edge, as the contents of Amy's diary spill into the narrative. "We are so cute, I wanna punch us in the face," she proclaims during one particularly awkward scene.
At this stage of the film it would be perfectly understandable if you want to throw in the towel, resigned to the fact that Fincher is fresh out of tricks. But stick with it. The truth of the mystery is soon revealed with a jolt, finally snapping the film to life. As the real film emerges from a thick fog, it picks up pace tremenodously, grabbing a playful edge by the scruff of the neck. It becomes clear that this Fincher experience is all about baiting his audience – and he's not letting us off the hook just yet.
The film's twists and turns never feel strained, only further heightening the viewing pleasure, as the film sails past the two-hour mark without slowing down. It becomes an impossibility to predict just what will happen next. Things unravel towards their final reel, with the ending contains perhaps the biggest surprise of all.
Once again Fincher surrounds himself with staff of a high calibre, with cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth and composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross back on board. The latter's nauseating musical throb, similar to their Oscar-winning score for The Social Network, works to grind down the moral imperfections of the leads, accentuating growing dread. However, keep in mind that the film is not without its humour, even with things bookended by brutal musings on marriage, highlighting the deception residing behind the veneer of a coupling.
The cast is uniformly excellent and both Affleck and Pike shine in their corresponding roles. Fincher mines Affleck's easy-going manner; a sly intelligence masked by slouched shoulders and a grin. It is British actress Pike, however, who makes the greatest impact in a memorable role. Having appeared recently in the likes of Jack Reacher, as well as more formal affairs such as Sense and Sensibility, her performance reveals depths previously unseen. They are joined by the equally unexpected duo of Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris, both playing against type in ways that accentuate the bonkers third act.
By the time the final credits roll, and you sit breathless in your cinematic chair, what lingers is an immensely enjoyable film that bathes in the moral rot of its main characters – just the way Fincher likes it. The brilliant auteur is back. Sit up and take notice.
2014. Twentieth Century Fox
Elsewhere on screens
Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s 20,000 Days on Earth offers a fictionalised account of musician Nick Cave’s 20,000th day of existence. Exploring his actual creative process this quasi-documentary was a hit at the recent Love and Anarchy Film Festival.
Ulvilan Murhamysteeri takes a closer look at the ongoing local drama that is the Anneli Auer murder trial, with director Pekka Lehto gaining access to all players in the often farcical case, laced with jaw-droppingly incredulous happenings.
Finally, based on the novel by Miika Nousiainen, Vadelmavenepakolainen follows the tale of Mikko Virtanen, who believes he is a Swedish man forced to live in the body of a Finnish man. So, just what happens when he gets that opportunity?