And when she was bad…

David Fincher’s Gone Girl is yet another example that Fincher is one of the most skilled directors working in Hollywood these days. It is gorgeous to look at, with the various elements of cinematic craft coming together almost to perfection. It is also a film that I found at turns annoying, ludicrous and distasteful, and that’s almost entirely due to the material. Similarly to Fincher’s previous film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it’s impossible not to admire the sheer craft while wishing that he had chosen better material to work with.

Gone Girl

Gone Girl, that is, the story and storytelling, is not without merits, but it’s too glib for its own good. There’s a lot here that individually is interesting, clever, engaging, amusing and chilling, but much of the time it doesn’t really add up: one moment it’s amoral and cynical as hell, the next it turns to moralising with a misogynist slant; in one scene it’s an effective if obvious satire of the media and the audience’s complicity that goes for the uncomfortable laugh, the next it’s a psychological thriller veering into outlandish melodrama, with only the most superficial similarity to reality. There’s an OCD quality to the story, as if Gone Girl didn’t quite trust itself to hold our attention if it decided to be one thing only. Not that films can’t strive for different things at the same time, but in this particular case we end up with a bit of a Frankensteinian creature on screen.

Gone Girl

Which is a shame, not least because to the extent that the film coheres it’s due to the dark, sharp performance in the emptiness where a different movie’s heart would be. I’d enjoyed watching Rosamund Pike in earlier performances, but I wasn’t prepared for how good she is in this. Again, though, there’s a tension here between the nuanced intelligence Pike brings to the part as a performer and the lurid, trashy quality of the material. For all its polish, Gone Girl is Grand Guignol, made up to look like, well, a David Fincher film, and one of his best-looking to date. Look beyond the aesthetics, though, and the one Fincher film that this most resembles is The Game, another movie of very effective individual parts that cohere less and less the more you look at the whole.

Gone Girl

Arguably Fincher’s a stronger, more skilled director at this stage than he was when he made The Game, so Gone Girl holds together better by the sheer quality of the filmmaking, but as I left the cinema, more than anything else I was hoping that next time round he’d decide to film a better script. His particular skillset is well suited to clever writing (as, say, The Social Network shows), but ideally his scripts have to be as clever as they think they are, and I don’t think that’s true for Gone Girl. I hope that whatever he decides to do next he runs like hell from material that in the final analysis is glib more than anything else.

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