Dueling Critics is a Where Y’at feature where movie critics David Vicari and Fritz Esker engage in some Siskel & Ebert-style banter about a new film. For this installment, they discuss the David Fincher directed mystery/thriller.
Fritz: With all great directors, there is a tendency to nitpick. I think David Fincher has made three genuinely great films: Seven, The Social Network, and Zodiac. His other films are all good or at least interesting misfires. I would place Gone Girl in the good-but-not-great category. How did you feel about it?
David: I think it's good-but-not-great Fincher. Still, a mystery/thriller from David Fincher is bounds and leaps better than the average cookie-cutter fare that we generally get. This is a riveting film for most of its two-and-a-half hour running time. Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, who becomes the prime suspect when his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), goes missing under suspicious circumstances. But that is just the first act of a thriller that has several twists and turns.
Fritz: I think Fincher does strong work as a director here, but I really think the film is anchored by the two leads, Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. Affleck is always at his best when he's not playing traditional heroes, but rather guys who are either flat-out douchebags (Dazed and Confused) or, at the very least, morally compromised protagonists (Changing Lanes). Pike's received steady work over the years and always acquitted herself well, but I think this is a star-making turn for her. Talking about the big twist, which occurs midway through the film...did it surprise you? I've read the book (by Gillian Flynn, who also wrote the screenplay) and one complaint I had with it was that I figured out where it was headed a while before the twist. Did it catch you off guard? Have you read the book?
David: Now, I haven't read the book, but I saw the twist coming from the get-go. I had suspected it before I actually saw the movie. Yet, where it went from there was fairly intriguing, balancing a character study with the thriller elements.
Yes, Affleck is very good here, and so is Pike. I agree, she has always been a solid actress and this is her star-making performance. I also think there are several other juicy female roles that are well played. The underused Kim Dickens is fantastic as the lead detective on the case. She has good chemistry with Patrick Fugit, who plays her more reserved partner. And Carrie Coon, as Nick's sister who is a voice of reason, turns in a rich and emotional performance.
For me, what makes Gone Girl a good movie, but not a great movie is the final act. It feels protracted and dulls the overall effect. At the same time, the final scene is very abrupt. I get the point, but it just feels Fincher didn't quite know when and how to end it.
Fritz: The ending does just sort of peter out a bit, but so does the book (that doesn't mean the movie should get a free pass for the flaw, but it exists in both forms). I read an article recently that pointed out how romantic relationships in Fincher's films either end badly (Seven, Zodiac, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, even the Sigourney Weaver-Charles Dance liaison in Alien 3) or are profoundly messed up (Benjamin Button, Fight Club). In Panic Room and The Game, the main characters are divorced. Do you think the futility of romantic relationships is an intentional recurring theme in Fincher's work, or are auteurists reading more into it than is actually there?
David: I personally never gave it any thought. It's possible that the subject of broken relationships is something that Fincher has in his subconscious, but I don't think it's completely intentional. But then again, most art is about the search for love.