The new David Fincher film turns out to be an extremely well-made tabloid TV movie shocker, one that is extremely long and doesn't have an ending. Ben Affleck is a man whose wife is missing. He is the prime suspect, and the expected media circus occurs, hitting all the expected beats. There are two big twists that send it into trash territory, which would be fine, if it had anything interesting to say and had a satisfying ending.
I recently started watching House of Cards, overseen by David Fincher, and after awhile, while thinking it was "good for watching," as it's all just awful people fucking one another over, I also thought it was "bad for society," because it's just so cynical and glamorizes an extremely selfish, vicious way of treating others [under the sheen of "showing it how it is"]. I found I was aggressive and angry after watching it, and finally just stopped, deciding I didn't want to watch any more. A similar story applies to Fincher's Gone Girl. Somehow anticipating a thoughtful, quality film that had something interesting to say about American society, I was surprised to find an extremely well-made tabloid TV-movie shocker. But even that would be fine--if it wasn't 14 hours long and if it had an ending.
Well, it does have an ending, actually: it has the ending of Double Indemnity, the novel. It also has the ending of The Getaway, the novel, which it stole from Double Indemnity. And, if you want to find out why the end of those novels was considered "unfilmable," well, look no further. And that's not all this story has in common with Double Indemnity.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. This is a film with a big twist, and so there's only so far we can go here without discussing it. We open with Nick [Affleck] caressing his wife's head and saying he'd like to crack it open and see what she's thinking, and "what they've done to themselves." We next see him go to a bar in the morning [we'll find out he owns the bar and the bartender is his sister]. When he returns home, his wife is missing, and a glass table is smashed. He calls the police, who suspect him. He has to move into his sister's while the forensic team goes through his home. Then we start having flashbacks to the beginning of his romance and marriage with Amy [Pike], who meet cute, get engaged cute, and are soon fucking on the floor of open bookstores. Amy was the subject of a series of children's books, Amazing Amy, authored by her parents, in which her fictionalized self accomplished everything she never could in real life, and left her with a weird kind of celebrity as someone she never was. There's a whole very interesting movie waiting to be made from this premise, but this one proves not to be it.
So for a while it proceeds to be the movie you expect it to be. Suspicion grows around Nick. He has some predictable secrets. The whole thing becomes a media circus. He becomes a notorious celebrity [though one that is able to move around rather freely], attractive to some women, a monster to most. There's one particular female TV host who relentlessly makes outrageous, irresponsible allegations about him. We have a finely-observed depiction of how the media feeds on scandal and tragedy--that will provide valuable new insights to exactly no one. Nick gets a flashy lawyer in Tyler Perry as Tanner Bolt, whose place here can best be understood as yet another homage/pilfer from.... well, The Postman Always Rings Twice this time, but same author as Double Indemnity. Anyway, finally Nick is arrested [and just as soon, out on bail]. And now the spoilers...
SPOILERS > > >
Well, just as you're starting to think that Nick is being framed, you find out that he IS being framed--and by Amy herself, who faked her own death. We flash back [making all those day-identifying subtitles more than the gimmick one suspected it was], and realize that the reason her diary version of their marriage seemed a little too perfect is that it was a complete fabrication. I personally was unaware this twist was coming, and while my overwhelming thought was "OMG, this is just tabloid trash!" which was a bit of a relief, as it was mostly unreleved, dreary seriousness by now. So we see Amy take her money and hide upstate at a trashy motel, where she makes friends with a local trash woman and her boyfriend. That no one recognizes her, when she barely looks different than the woman they are constantly watching on TV, is a bit ludicrous [and apparently no one is actually LOOKING for Amy, they're just going through Nick and Amy's house]. Anyway, her new friends eventually rob her, and we just have to accept that Amy--who up til now has been a ruthless psychopath--just lets them take her money without a fight. Although this is a good twist--now she's absolutely penniless, throwing her plans haywire.
She ends up calling Neil Patrick Harris (NPH) as a rich man who was said to be obsessed with her after she broke up with him years ago. He has a very expensive house out in the woods where he puts her up, though it becomes obvious that he expects that they're going to be together from now on, which is NOT cool with her. Just as NPH is gearing up to make her his forever woman, she sees an interview with Nick in which he "nails it" by playing the part of the imperfect man who is sorry and admits to flaws, but says that he loves Amy very much and just wants her back. Well, she's launching a new plan, and... are you sure you want to know? We kind of have to talk about the ending in order to discuss what an exquisitely-polished turd this is, but it may offer you some lurid amusement if you don't know. Anyway, your choice... it all goes down in the next shocking paragraph.
So Amy sets up a fake rape with NPH (we have learned of her methods from an earlier boyfriend that Nick found) and that night, kills him in an extremely bloody way, while they are fucking, at the moment of his orgasm. Now back to Nick, who is in even hotter water than before, when suddenly--Amy shows up, all bloody, on his doorstep! She's back. There is a brief hint that the female detective [who we have known for a while secretly believes Nick] is going to expose Amy's story, but that goes nowhere. There's a hasty lunch with her and lawyer Tanner Bolt, both of whom say "Nothing we can do, sorry!" and split. Amy tells Nick that he can't say a single thing, and he's trapped with her forever, to which he seems to agree. Months pass. And you're sitting there thinking "Okay, he's going to figure a way out of this!" and "Nick's got some brilliant plan and it's all going to work out!" and then we return to the opening, with him stroking her head, and I started thinking "This movie CANNOT end here. It CANNOT just end." And then....
It ends. This, I think, is stolen from the ending of Double Indemnity, the novel, in which the two characters are stuck together for eternity, which has a kind of poetic justice, as they deserve each other. I realized it was this after thinking for a long time that this film had no ending. Now, I have heard that the novel is more even-handed in the handling of the two sides of the story, and that this film comes down more damningly against Amy, and I am prepared to believe that, as the final feeling is that Nick may be a douche, but he in no way deserves what he gets at the end of the film. And maybe I'm a bit traditional, but I think Nick suffered so much in this film that he is entitled to a little comeuppance--and we are entitled to a little satisfaction. The film is kind of interesting in that Amy is a true psycho, and the film could go further into how her parents and her fictionalized life made her that way, but the movie chooses for that to only be an element. And I don't believe for a second that there truly is nothing Nick can do to get out of the situation, making the whole thing seem like a cop-out and contrivance.
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Ultimately, we have a lot of criticism of the media and the simplistic images it demands and enforces, which is not a bad point, just a banal one [Oh, and this just in: Marriage is hell]. There is some small interest in the idea that Amy is expert in playing, and creating, media images, but it's a pretty cynical point [albiet true] that just doesn't really add that much. Amy doesn't play on them in a truly ingenious way, and ultimately everything that happens here comes off as a contrivance, playing out a bit too perfectly, with no one asking serious questions or really doing anything that might seem authentic but would not advance the mechanical contrivances of the plot.
In retrospect, it fits very neatly into the line of Fincher's films [which another critic wisely described as about HOW and not WHY], in its focus on procedure and how things happen. In this way, I would put it closer to Zodiac than any other of his films, as it's kind of laying out a series of events, arranging cause after cause, than trying to really bring us through an emotional experience. Ultimately, it made me far less interested in him and made me question whether he has much beyond technical talent. Does he have a vision that can only be expressed in film? Got me, but I think it's a pretty sad statement that this is held up as a quality, year-end film, and really--THIS opened the New York Film Festival? THIS piece of high-toned trash?
If you want to, but I would wait for a medium that allows you to fast-forward.