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Well, whoever took her is bound to bring her back.

Gone Girl
(2014)

(SPOILERS) A David Fincher film is always a seductive treat, even when the greater whole proves something of a misfire (The Game, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). Gone Girl finds the director’s technique ever more refined, seamless and subtle, yet as with his previous picture he has chosen to unleash his virtuosity and microscopic attention to detail on subject matter that is overtly lurid and provocative. In contrast to Tattoo, Gillian Flynn’s adaptation of her novel is at least imbued with multiple layers themes, adding substance – but let’s not overstate this – to what is at first sight just your a standard mystery yarn. This is a twisted take on marriage, media and our capacity for suggestibility. It’s also easy to hear Fincher’s mischievous chuckle over successive scenes, pleased with the way he has so calculatedly pushed the buttons of debate; is it misogynist, feminist, or is this just a director taking delight in causing those discussions? There have been comparisons to Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut but the better yardstick, in terms of flagrantly manipulating the audience, is probably Alfred Hitchcock.


For all that Gone Girl has caused a lot of people to say a lot of about it, sometimes at odds with each other, its mechanics are essentially those of airport fiction. Fincher presents his fiction in an a luxuriant manner, suggesting it is expansively about something beyond it’s titillating plot devices. And it is, but whether it can actually fill the spaces it creates, thereby surmounting its genre, is questionable. I’m dubious the film has sufficiently deliberate content to carry the resonance of a Vertigo, or Fincher’s own Fight Club (with which it bears comparison in respect of eminent scope for interpretation and misinterpretation).


Which is worth considering because this is a rivetingly put together, resplendently executed piece of work. Fincher setting his sights on pulp elicits a not dissimilar response to those questioning why Kubrick would choose to adapt something clearly beneath him like The Shining. For a thriller with barely a standard cheap thrill in it, Gone Girl remains taut and compelling; Fincher has such confidence he doesn’t need to consciously put any pedal to any metal. Yet he also rides a succession of audacious twists and reveals, some of which threaten to implode the careful precision and exactness over which he presides. The daring, unusual narrative structure nurses many of the perils of the unreliable narrator device and serves to unbalance the dynamic of an ill-suited couple that proves to be all too suited to each other.


We’re introduced to Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary; discovering his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is missing, with signs of violence in the house, he calls the police and a manhunt duly begins. Inevitably the media spotlight shifts to focus on him and his potential transgressiveness, a perspective underlined by relationship flashbacks narrated from Amy’s diary. Here the slow descent of their marriage is revealed in consort with a threatening side to an apparently ideal husband. And then, without warning, the rug is pulled as we cut to Amy alive-and-well, having plotted this morass of intrigue to frame Nick for his infidelities. What follows finds Amy’s plans not quite going according to plan, but as a consequence revealing a scrupulously inventive ability to turn almost any scenario to her advantage. Ultimately and most humorously and perversely, this leads to a gambit to win back Nick.


It’s actually the leftfield conclusion of Gone Girl that most sets it apart from being a standard glossy thriller along the lines of Jagged Edge or Basic Instinct. No one gets his or her comeuppance, perhaps because no one is an especially nice persona anyway and Fincher and Flynn are disinterested in token gestures. In that respect it forms a neat companion piece to another paean to the corrupted, disintegrating marriage, Danny De Vito’s The War of the Roses. That Nick should choose to remain with Amy, after the outlandish frame-up she has connived, is the blackest joke in a film of acrid mischief. It’s just a pity that Fincher and Flynn need to emphasise it with dialogue as one the nose as Amy’s response to Nick’s “Yes, I loved you and then all we did was resent each other, try to control each other. We cause each other pain”; “That’s marriage”. We’ve got the jaundiced message. Even given the war she has waged, he succumbs to her manipulation; his eyes are open (unlike his somnambulant stumble into her first set up) but he can’t help himself this time. Weak as he is, he is carried along by her powers of persuasion and the fortune and fame their arrangement offers (her pregnancy is his voiced reason, but we see his subtle responses to her – amid his protestations – as she casts an irresistible spell on him).


In his heavy-on-plot-summary essay, Richard Kelly compares Gone Girl with Eyes Wide Shut. Fincher, with his cool formality and painstaking process, is no stranger to comparisons the late great, but I don’t really think this is much like Eyes, other than in the most obvious – rather than integral – terms. Both feature a male haplessly immersed in a world beyond his control, not nearly as bright as his partner, and out of his depth when challenged by the guiles of the woman in his life. He becomes the nominal sympathetic character, while through obliqueness and lack of texture Amy is merely the arch-siren who pulls his strings. It should be pointed out that I don’t think it’s the makers’ intent to draw such lines between the characters, certainly not in this manner (although Gone Girl is certainly clear in establishing the extremes of Amy’s cold-hearted intent); rather, it’s a function of a structure that has no choice but to unbalance the presentation of the female character.


Nick’s a cheat who has dragged his wife to the back of beyond and drained her resources, an impassive ungiving boor who has fallen into self-indulgence after losing his job (they are, or were, both writers). Fincher uses the slightly smug, stolid inscrutability of Affleck to good effect during the first section of the film, creating enough of a “Maybe he did it” to allow the accumulating forces to build a case against him. And there is most definitely an intent here to mark Nick out as, in some ways, just as unnerving as Amy. As noted, there is the choice he makes at to stay with her, which no person of sound mind would make, but this also serves to bookend our opening insight into his thought processes (as I recall this is the only voice over we hear from Nick in the film) where he talks about fantasising stoving Amy’s head in. The obvious purpose is to sow the seeds of doubt that grow over the next hour, but there’s a dual mechanism; if he didn’t murder his wife, maybe he could, maybe he has it in him. Roused to anger after their repatriation, he pins her by the throat; suddenly the Nick Amy has imagined in her diary entries is crystallised (although the real Amy is fiercely unafraid of him). After the dust has settled and they have reconciled we can only conclude they fit like peas in a pod, all-too deserving of each other.


Before Nick goes on TV for a talk show interview he announces, “I can do this”, and he unveils the same master-manipulation at which Amy excels. Appropriately, she tells him the reason she came back was seeing him on TV; his engagement in his performance is the quality that attracted her to him in the first place. While this is clearly a ploy, we can also believe it happens to be true. The irony is, he is only her equal when she has provoked and cornered him; his choice to stay with her is a submissive, passive one.


Nick ends up coming across as weak and morally degenerate. At least Amy is relentless in her psychopathy. If Nick has such leanings they are less evident and less honed; for all his ability to lie and put on a show, he still has tells and failings (getting caught smiling in photos, trying to please others; suggestive of genuine feelings, but they aren’t “normal” feelings, such as those his sister expresses). As shocking and instructive as Nick’s about face is, the extremes of Amy’s behaviour nevertheless serve to overwhelm his distinct brand of malfeasance.


It’s been said that Amy in the film isn’t nearly as developed a character as in the novel, and this wouldn’t surprise me (I haven’t read it, I hasten to add). The first half of the picture unspools her deceit. So after we’ve been presented with a fake Amy we are introduced to cool-as-a-cucumber revenger Amy, complete with perfidious schemes and unconvincing plans to top herself. The trailer trash girl who ultimately robs her hits the nail on the head when she calls Amy a spoilt rich girl (the TV Amy, that is). So it is that, when robbed, she opts for the easy life. If easy is murdering your obsessive ex-boyfriend (Desi, Neil Patrick Harris) with a box cutter, rather than toughing things out.  It might be argued the lack of insight into Amy is an intentional deceit; Nick doesn’t know real Amy, but real Amy knows real Nick. That doesn’t really fly, however; the trick with Amy would have been to make us identify – or at least understand – with her in spite of her actions. Fincher is unable to do this.


When we meet “real” Amy (so too with Desi) she arrives as a movie world character (or villain) than one with any semblance of verisimilitude. This contrasts with the environment of the first half of the picture, and the relationship between Nick and his sister Margo (Carrie Coon). Amy’s is a plane of heightened deceit, impenetrable because there is nothing within which to relate. When she delivers a discourse on how the “Guys want cool girls”, it’s an over-written and studied pieces of dialogues, maybe because this is a sociopath’s rehearsed justification but maybe because Amy is really just another two-dimensional Hollywood dastard. This doesn’t need to be so; the less nuanced Jagged Edge managed to create a relatable character from its bad guy. So the blame for Gone Girl’s girl leads to the door of the seductive structure and Fincher and Flynn’s resultant choices.


After all, during the course of the picture we learn of far worse sins (as in hot button topics) that Amy has committed beyond merely framing her husband for murder; she faked a rape charge against a former classmate (a blink and you’ll miss him Scoot McNairy) and she subsequently gets pregnant just to keep her man. There can be little doubt Fincher and Flynn are consciously drawing on deep male fears of the culpability and capability of women, but to what end? Well, it must surely be that this capacity is an end in itself; Nick gets the women he deserves, the marriage he deserves. They aren’t together for the sake of the baby alone, they’re together because they’re bad seeds, and a marriage where they hate each other is at least a form of simpatico. 


Which might lead to the more general reading that one gets the marriage one deserves. I wouldn’t go this far; Fincher’s overriding intent is to create a reaction even, if it’s at the expense of rounded storytelling. He might want the viewer to mull the point, but he’s too slippery to let it stick. He and Flynn are shining a light on fears within marriage, disembowelling its core, discarding the innards, and suggesting, with a half-cocked smirk, that all that remains after the first bloom has abated is discontent, escalating loathing and contempt. This is not a thesis, a diatribe or a polemic. Fincher and Flynn aim to raise such doubts and expose such fears in similar fashion to a horror movie engineering effective scares; in its way Gone Girl is as calculated and callous as Amy herself.


This goes to some of the charges being thrown the way of Fincher and Flynn (in particular the latter). There’s a great deal of difference between titillation or provocation and endorsement. If artists are to be held responsible for those who embrace the views of their characters, there will never be anything but anaemic art. Similarly, there are commentators who wish to throw dispositions at artists because they’re too lazy to differentiate between a character and its creator. Of course, there are objectionable sorts who espouse objectionable views in the field of culture, but the media never tires of taking a continuingly broke-backed approach in which the blame is placed on those who comment on society rather the ones who perpetuate its ills. 


The debate about the possible misogyny of Gone Girl is inevitable (and as suggested, quite probably intentional on Fincher’s part) but spurious; so too, the concern that it might further justify those holding such views is about as deserving of an audience as arguing any movie or TV show that someone, somewhere, could latch onto unhealthily should be banned (let’s say Taxi Driver, or Dexter; whatever the latest example may be where someone sees themselves in a fictional character).  It remains a perennial headline maker, however, and so the need to present the counter-view – that exploring objectionable or undesirable values or views doesn’t represent an endorsement of those values or views – also remains ever necessary.


One area the picture doesn’t put a foot wrong is in the astute, caustic and very funny presentation of the media circus that swarms across the case like locusts. At one point Kim Dickens’ Detective Boney refers to Nick’s bar being called The Bar as very meta, and the self-awareness of Gone Girl is nothing if not that.


The media want to believe the script they want to believe at the time they want to believe it, and everyone involved is informed either by established case book lore (it’s usually someone the missing person knows) or television shows (Nick notably invokes this when interviewed by the police). The fiction of the film is aware of the fiction that permeates its reality. Amy knows how to plant evidence of wrongdoing from the numerous cop shows and CSIs she has seen; the plot itself reeks of the sort of thing Columbo would investigate. Except of course there’s no murder and the chief suspect didn’t do it. Yet the meticulous construction with significant holes in it has that kind of vibe; it’s just waiting for a guy in a crumpled mac to tear Amy’s story apart.


In the world of Gone Girl, and the media generally, suspicion falls on the husband and so the trial by opinion begins (it might be argued this is a fallacy; all it takes is for an Amanda Knox case and the fascination and assumptions are equally as coordinated and relentless). Everyone involved wants a piece of Nick’s pie, and most prove to be inveterate manipulators. There’s the girl who takes a selfie with Nick. There’s cable TV host Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle), shamelessly vilifying Nick only to do a 180° turn when it’s the “happy” couple agree to appear on her show. Tyler Perry’s suitably implausibly named Tanner Bolt is not only a lawyer specialising in Nick’s brand of predicament, but one who is highly media savvy. And, like everyone apart from Margo, Nick catches on quick.


And everyone’s at it, almost. Amy’s parents Marybeth (Lisa Banes) and Rand (David Clennon) are past masters; their daughter’s vanishing act becomes not a heartfelt plea for her safe recovery but the latest publicity tour for Amazing Amy (the series of books about her younger self that have blighted Amy’s subsequent development; I’m sure if Psycho’s shrink was on hand he could point to exactly where it was she went wrong).


As presented by Fincher and Flynn, the veneer of make-believe and opinion is more real and desirable than flimsy truth. No one’s immune. Certainly not the police and FBI, who swallow Amy’s tall tale hook, line and box cutter. As Patrick Fugit’s Officer Gilpin – who had it in for Nick as the perpetrator – comments to him, “Can't you just be happy your wife’s home?” She has manufactured a happy ending that everyone else would much rather believe, and so pervasive is it that Nick also succumbs.


The sway of media, and the innate need for self-promotion go hand-in-hand with the pursuit of money. Filthy lucre and its lack is a recurrent underlying theme of the film, It’s somewhere lurking in every corner, from the homeless hidden away from upstanding folk in a derelict mall (the former symbol of every town’s success and boom) to Marybeth and Rand, the starkly manipulative parents (they even broke into her trust fund). The backdrop of recession has affected everyone except maybe Tanner.


Anyone attempting to say the green stuff is not important is rudely awakened. Nick and Amy (in her filtered flashbacks admittedly) claim it cannot buy happiness, and that they will survive with just each other. But when Nick loses his job and becomes a slob camping out in the living room playing computer games, and Amy is forced into moving to Carthage, Missouri to be with Nick’s dying mother, it becomes clear that theirs is but a cheap veneer. Without it, they the edifice crumbles. Very tellingly, their relationship only recovers when they have money again at the end; they may not be happy, but at least their existence was founded on a lack of hardship.


Elsewhere its money that leads Amy back to worrisome arms of Desi when she is robbed by trailer trash Jeff (Boyd Holbrook) and Greta (Lola Kirke). The super rich and very alone Desi hasn’t been hit by the recession, but he has been corrupted by his luxurious surroundings, seeing people as mere possessions. It’s only the picture’s rock Margo who is unpersuaded by the press and unimpressed by wealth. True, her livelihood is propped up by a loan from her sister-in-law, but she offers her brother her savings without hesitation when it comes to trial. It isn’t that Margo is holier than thou or some kind of philanthropic saint. It’s that she’s the only normal person in a catalogue of grotesques.


Part of Gone Girl’s appeal, even if it cannot finally transcend its genre trappings to become something more profound, is the manner in which it successfully confounds expectation as to the type of story it is telling. That it does so several times is even more impressive and unusual. Even with of Amy’s body in absentia, the are-they-aren’t they prime suspect plot is one to which we’re well used (although the last really quality one I can recall might be as far back as Presumed Innocent). So when Flynn pulls a switcheroo and the focus transfers to the believed victim, it’s an audacious and risky moment. As I’ve said, I don’t think the picture entirely succeeds in its portrait of Amy but it’s nevertheless amusing to hear her detail her scheme, suddenly appearing midway through the yarn as if to steal Hercule Poirot’s thunder.


That’s one of the wittier aspects of the telling, that the act itself is consciously built upon a lifetime’s consumption of detective fiction. Flynn seems to be almost daring the audience to call her out on Amy’s embrace of the artifice of overblown and unlikely plans, the sort that always come undone within moments of (yes) Columbo clapping eyes on the perpetrator. So the clues she leaves, both literal (the envelopes) and implicating (the diary, the shed full of man-goodies), are fanciful and reliant on predicting a certain sequence of events, which have multiple possible alternatives. Later, this slight incredulity seems to be at least part of the point. We’re surely supposed to wonder at the waving away of holes in Amy’s story because at least three of the characters do too; the overall impact of her reappearance is so overpowering.  


So it is that viewers have taken issue, in particular with Desi’s 24/7 surveillance pad not spilling its secrets, why no one did a search of his/her phone records, or why the police are so utterly incompetent when it comes to the important stuff (aside from Boney, who was formerly all-but convinced of Nick’s guilt). But the point is, facts are an encumbrance once opinion is on your side. We are as floored as anyone by the sudden appearance of a blood-soaked Amy in Nick’s driveway, even given that she just opened up Doogie Howser’s throat mid-coitus. Because these are the kind of gaudy developments that seemed to have stepped in from a much more innately trashy spectacle like Basic Instinct (one similarly resistant to logic and good policing). Yet Fincher makes these transitions with underplayed flourish, and deceptive ease.


The areas Fincher is playing with, Hitchcock has been to before him. Then, there’s little in this genre that Hitch hasn’t explored in some shape or form. He came particularly unstuck when he pushed the unreliable narrator too far in Stage Fright (not one of his finest, although it features Alistair Sim, which should be recommendation enough). Fincher gets away with it, just about, because there’s a “real” story playing out concurrently and there’s a lot more real story to be told after the flashbacks have concluded. The other aspect that likely appealed to Fincher from a basic structural perspective – and he likes his curveballs and tricksy narratives as evidenced by Seven and Fight Club, even if they sometimes hoist him by his own petard (The Game) – was the opportunity to turn the story on its head, not with some final reel twist but barely halfway through. This is a director who dared audiences to watch a serial killer procedural where the murderer is never determined (Zodiac), so one should never doubt his affinity for some bright dangling jewel of plotting that could potentially overpower his better instincts; can he get away with it? Will the audience be turned off? All the more reason to try it.


Gone Girl’s twist can’t compare with Psycho’s but it has a similar shredding effect on what we have seen before. In both films there is a seismic shift after the murder/not murder has taken place. The Nick and Margo world of naturalistic interactions, and the suspicion, interrogation and growing media spotlight has a particular relative realism, all the stronger due to the over-emphasis of the skewed flashbacks (all chocolate box romance or lurid threats). So to, Marion Crane’s petty theft and flight from perceived justice represent a very different movie than the gothic fizz and raining knife blows that follow. This opening section is – relatively, as it’s heightened as only Hitch can make things – is a realistic small-time crime movie, but morphs into Grand Guignol horror once Norman Bates makes his presence felt. The rest of the picture is a much more cartoonish affair, with the most indelible of big screen serial killers and a couple of Scooby Doo investigators. Gone Girl’s Amy is a much broader characterisation than Nick also; difficult perhaps to write a sociopath without a tendency to bold strokes, but the incidents that stack up only serve to complement this take. The picture becomes more of a caricature, and would become giddy or delirious if it weren’t for Fincher’s firm, steely grip.


Amy’s sojourn at a cheap motel (just like Psycho, and just like Psycho she has a bag full of money and threatening neighbours) is frequently very funny, from her superiority complex to her indecisiveness about killing herself today everyday. And her creeping addiction to the TV coverage of her disappearance makes for some of the few moments in her storyline that reveal a glimpse of her true self; here at least, there’s a sense of the deflation and mundanity that follow the success of her implausible stunt. The ever after isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, particularly when the exit plan of suicide was never going to happen. So I wasn’t all that impressed by the decision for her to rock up at Desi’s. It felt that, whatever the choices being made by Flynn, they had become self-limiting. Even more so when Desi – a near-parody of a repressed nutter of the first order, who only serves to underline that we are now firmly in the world of full-on sordid pulp – make his obsessive feelings felt. Fortunately, the box cutter incident sucked me back in and kept my attention until the denouement. But much like Psycho, while the fireworks and over-enunciated commentary seize the attention in the second half the picture, and get the instant responses, the less forward, more considered, first section is probably the better judged and more immersive.


Fincher tends to cast his pictures well. There’s the odd exception. Jake Gyllenhaal in Zodiac never wholly sold me, and Justin Timberlake’s turn in The Social Network is off because Timberlake as an actor is off. Here, I groaned when I heard he’d cast Affleck. Ben may be enjoying a career renaissance, but I don’t find him per se an appealing or persuasive performer (the only exception is his early career bluster in Shakespeare in Love; perhaps he should work more at being fun, rather than existing in monotone). That works to his favour here, his aging jock looks and ambiguous, indifferent, presence serving the character.


Despite the failings in the depiction of Amy, Pike probably hasn’t had a character this juicy in her career to date. She embraces the opportunity with gusto, whether she’s discarding all make-up to hide out or adjusting her performance and tone in a heartbeat. Yet in spite of the showiness of the character, this isn’t one to marvel at. Amy’s on the Lector scale of screen psychos, simply because we see her predominately as a faker; she’s a perpetrator of monstrous deeds and unflinching deceptions. In fact, for all the attention-seeking of Fincher’s last two major female protagonists, they are both really rather short-changed where it counts; Lisbeth is a look and attitude in search of any real substance (not that anyone in the Dragon really has any) while Amy is murky in a different way to Nick. We may not be able to see their inner lives, but Amy is quick, sharp and precise while Nick is slovenly and slow. There’s no complexity to her, just a string of colourful charades (Fincher’s most successful female protagonist might be Jodie Foster in Panic Room, even though that picture tends to get dismissed as a rudimentary exercise in box-ticking thriller tropes).


As for the rest of the cast, Perry is a rambunctious delight as the unscrupulous Bolt. I haven’t seen any of his Madea-fuelled one-man franchise house and I avoided Alex Cross expressly, but on this evidence he has a rich potential outside of his self-created movie universe. It takes Fincher’s distorted lens to see that, like Affleck, he has a role beyond established limitations. Missi Pyle provides the alter-glitz, and you can tell she’s loving every moment of her horrifically plausible cable show host. Harris is always strong, he just isn’t very well catered for here. Dickens is solid in a role that demands solid, while Fugit ekes dry laughs as not the most discerning of law enforcement types. This summer’s big small screen discovery, Carrie Coon, yet again delivers an outstanding performance as the sober, considered voice of reason while all are losing their heads. Hers is the barometer of the madness of the movie, but reactive as Margo is Coon makes her memorable.


Fincher brings his regular collaborators to the party; Jeff Cronenwerth is cinematographer again, while Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross provide the soundtrack. Theirs is a disenchanted yet upbeat aural hue, the tinkly sound of marital bliss stretched to the point of nightmares. The imagery of Gone Girl doesn’t leap up and shout “Look at me!”  compared to some of Fincher’s work; he appears to be consciously adopting a more measured less ostentatious style. There are no zooms through kettle handles here or browsing of Ikea catalogues. But then shots percolate in the mind afterwards. The romantic kiss amid powdered sugar made me think only of that lousy CGI breath in The Social Network, to be honest, but other images are most arresting; Nick’s cat in almost any shot, but especially sitting at the door as reporters frenzy outside; the torch light search party at dusk, with cyclists, all but hearkens to E.T.; Amy’s performance for the closed-circuit cameras, struggling bloodied (wine-ied) at the glass doors of Dezi’s abode; and her exit from her car, breaking onto Nick’s drive as the media are rouse from their slumber, suddenly aware of the scoop that has deposited itself in their laps.


One can imagine Brian De Palma or Paul Verhoeven attacking Gone Girl with gleeful abandon and enthusiasm for its sensationalist excesses. It’s that kind of picture. If there’s some commentary (Verhoeven would have gone to town wth the media show) or depth too, so much the better. But, perhaps in response to Tattoo, Fincher needs the respectability of theme to induce him, even if it’s something of a bauble itself. There’s a reticence to truly soak himself in the bloody remains; for all Tattoo’s censor-bating, it was never less than rigidly controlled and schematic (which ultimately worked against it; old wine in new skins) In some ways this recent streak for Fincher hearkens to De Palma’s intricate psychosexual thrillers of the ‘80s, and one recalls that director boasting of how he would push the envelope as far as he could with Body Double. Fincher, more clinically perhaps, seems to be experimenting with something of the same. De Palma was frequently lambasted for his visual indiscretions (and labelled a misogynist) so Fincher, something of a coolly respected darling, has the ground on him there. But this lustre sometimes seems like emperor’s new clothes, breathing an intellectual sheen on material to disguise the fact it only has a couple of  good ideas.


Verhoeven and De Palma might not have inflamed the same talking points if they’d made the film (although certainly others would have arisen), but their results might have been more honest in a curious way (conversely, give it to a director with just the right lack of flair and you get the next Double Jeopardy). There’s a strange feeling of prudery here and in Tattoo whereby Fincher focuses on sexual congress, often in an unsettling or violent context, but remains wholly impassive.  This creates a sense that he has no interest in such sordid material other than as a challenge of depiction he has set himself. Verhoeven would revel in such scenes while Kubrick, for all his reputation as a clinician, was clearly fascinated by and ready to explore matters sexual and erotic.


In interviews Fincher has expressed his wish to provoke, and he’s certainly succeeded here. That at least means he’s made a zeitgeist movie for the first time in fifteen years. Gone Girl isn’t as densely packed and intricately formed as Fight Club, and it may be that Fincher’s restraint here allows the film’s shortcomings too much time to percolate. Like Fight Club, it looks as if this will be the subject of ready misinterpretation as commonly as it will be a popular conversation piece. Gone Girl is a superior mishmash of genre tropes and seditious treatise on the broken back of marriage, while taking in the monstrous twin manipulators of media and money. Yet this is really just glossy popular fiction along the lines of Fatal Attraction. Fincher and Flynn embrace fears regarding the marital unit and shower them with narrative hyperbole, albeit delivered with considerably more class than Adrian Lynne’s movie. Yet you only have to look at the way the trailers finish with Amy's fantasy of her corpse plunging into the depths; it's an overtly calculated misdirection that tells you this picture is really all about sleight of hand.  Which means this is the wrong place to look if you want a genuinely insightful interrogation or meaningful discourse on the subject.





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Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Don't give me any of that intelligent life crap, just give me something I can blow up.

Dark Star (1974)
(SPOILERS) Is Dark Star more a John Carpenter film or more a Dan O’Bannon one? Until the mid ‘80s it might have seemed atypical of either of them, since they had both subsequently eschewed comedy in favour of horror (or thriller). And then they made Big Trouble in Little China and Return of the Living Dead respectively, and you’d have been none-the-wiser again. I think it’s probably fair to suggest it was a more personal film to O’Bannon, who took its commercial failure harder, and Carpenter certainly didn’t relish the tension their creative collaboration brought (“a duel of control” as he put it), as he elected not to work with his co-writer/ actor/ editor/ production designer/ special effects supervisor again. Which is a shame, as, while no one is ever going to label Dark Star a masterpiece, their meeting of minds resulted in one of the decade’s most enduring cult classics, and for all that they may have dismissed it/ seen only its negatives since, one of the best mo…

Ruination to all men!

The Avengers 24: How to Succeed…. At Murder
On the one hand, this episode has a distinctly reactionary whiff about it, pricking the bubble of the feminist movement, with Steed putting a female assassin over his knee and tickling her into submission. On the other, it has Steed putting a female assassin over his knee and tickling her into submission. How to Succeed… At Murder (a title play on How to Succeed at Business Without Really Trying, perhaps) is often very funny, even if you’re more than a little aware of the “wacky” formula that has been steadily honed over the course of the fourth season.

You just keep on drilling, sir, and we'll keep on killing.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)
(SPOILERS) The drubbing Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk received really wasn’t unfair. I can’t even offer it the “brave experiment” consolation on the basis of its use of a different frame rate – not evident in itself on 24fps Blu ray, but the neutering effect of the actual compositions is, and quite tellingly in places – since the material itself is so lacking. It’s yet another misguided (to be generous to its motives) War on Terror movie, and one that manages to be both formulaic and at times fatuous in its presentation.

The irony is that Ang Lee, who wanted Billy Lynn to feel immersive and realistic, has made a movie where nothing seems real. Jean-Christophe Castelli’s adaptation of Ben Fountain’s novel is careful to tread heavily on every war movie cliché it can muster – and Vietnam War movie cliché at that – as it follows Billy Lynn (British actor Joe Alwyn) and his unit (“Bravo Squad”) on a media blitz celebrating their heroism in 2004 Iraq …

The wolves are running. Perhaps you would do something to stop their bite?

The Box of Delights (1984)
If you were at a formative age when it was first broadcast, a festive viewing of The Box of Delightsmay well have become an annual ritual. The BBC adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 novel is perhaps the ultimate cosy yuletide treat. On a TV screen, at any rate. To an extent, this is exactly the kind of unashamedly middle class-orientated bread-and-butter period production the corporation now thinks twice about; ever so posh kids having jolly adventures in a nostalgic netherworld of Interwar Britannia. Fortunately, there’s more to it than that. There is something genuinely evocative about Box’s mythic landscape, a place where dream and reality and time and place are unfixed and where Christmas is guaranteed a blanket of thick snow. Key to this is the atmosphere instilled by director Renny Rye. Most BBC fantasy fare doe not age well but The Box of Delights is blessed with a sinister-yet-familiar charm, such that even the creakier production decisions may be vie…

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983)
(SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. That doesn’t mea…

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…