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Rarely is David Fincher not the star of his own movies. Few directors in the world have such a univocal imprint on their work. A crafty interpreter of human luridity and the dread that emerges out of it, concocted with superbly stylish and manipulative technical tricks, Fincherland is never an easy place to enter even when you watch his least disturbing movies like The Social Network. Someone is always veering towards a dangerous turn, creasing others to irreparable, desperate ruin. Fight Club, Zodiac, Seven, Panic Room, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo—in all these films, Fincher magnifies the most uneasy impulses of his characters, making the viewer anticipate and imagine the impending ugliness and then once he has surprised or ingratiated you, forces him to leave the theatre utterly uneasy.

In his new film Gone Girl, a lawyer named Tanner Bolt (Chris Tyler), a messiah for beleaguered men brimming with a facade that unmistakably hides well his own misogyny, signs off his role saying, “You two are the most fucked-up people I have ever met, and I specialize in fucked-up." Fincher, collaborating with Gillian Flynn for the screenplay based on Flynn’s wickedly witty best-seller about a couple in dystopic American suburbia, makes the fucked-up so creepy, you would agree with Tanner. This is far more nasty than Sam Mendes’ Lester and Carolyne Burnham (American Beauty); this is icy malevolence in the guise of marriage.

Unlike in Flynn’s novel, which is more grey and entertaining than the film, Fincher’s psychotic centre is Amy (Rosamund Pike) the wife. Nick the husband (Ben Affleck), despite his depravity, comes across as a target of irrational, female spite. Amy is the hero and the villain at the same time, although it is not ambiguous the film’s sympathy, if any, is with Nick.

So Fincher is really in his elements here. Blade-sharp editing by Kirk Baxter, atmospheric cinematography by Jeff Cronenweth complementing the film’s pneumatic course spanning over two hours, music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, astutely used to keep the tempo of the thriller rising till the last scene—the director instruments his vision in this ‘he said-she said’ narrative so sharply, it is easy to miss his sympathies. Given Amy is the one in the story with gumption and wiles, Fincher aggrandizes her to a point where all sense of humour and wit dissolves and what remains is the creepy mastermind behind the missing person story around which the film revolves.

Nick and Amy meet in New York in a hipster, magazine journalism world setting. She, as Nick says to her later, has been serially “plagiarized" by her psychologist parents through a series of books based on the experiences of their daughter’s growing-up years. He is a “salt-of-the-earth" man from Missouri. She writes quizzes for a women’s magazine and he is a reporter. Their relationship unfolds through Amy’s staccato diary jottings and their voice-overs—their first kiss under floating specks of icing sugar, the subsequent delirious sex life, smart in-jokes, the economic downturn, loss of their jobs, their moving to the small town in Missouri where Nick grew up to help his mother battle cancer, the death of his mother, Nick running a bar with his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon), Amy’s isolation and loneliness, the breakdown of communication between them, the marriage souring rotten and finally Amy going missing one morning. Nick returns home to find their pet cat still, a table overturned over broken glass shards and tiny blood marks across furniture in the couple’s neon-lit, neat home. A local investigation officer Detective Booney (Kim Dickens) takes over the case. The incident feeds lurid stories in the local television channels, playing on the town’s sympathy, revulsion and fear. Amy’s story still keeps moving through voice-overs, in a parallel narrative told from her point of view. Actor Neil Patrick Harris appears in the role of a jilted former lover of Amy, providing momentum to a plot gone diabolical.

For Pike, this is a breakthrough role. In a recent interview to Playboy, Fincher said Pike reminded him of Faye Dunaway when he first met her. As the quiet, implosive and finally menacing character, although just about scratched by the writers in the screenplay, Pike is immersive, portraying the character’s unpredictability with relish. Affleck’s off-handish persona works for the role of Nick, the unlayered, small, victimized man that he is meant to be. Coon impressively works her way into this foul drama as the only person who is entirely convinced about what’s right and what’s wrong. Dickens as the detective paints a formidable picture.

Gone Girl has none of the moral ambiguity and depth that these two characters demand. In fact, we see little of them or know little of them. Will she stay gone? Will Nick get the death penalty in Missouri? Towards the climax, I somehow lost interest about the film as a whodunnit, caught as I was, with Fincher’s supreme cleverness in crafting a story without telling you much about his two protagonists apparently so gone in their heart and mind.

Gone Girl released in theatres on Friday

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