Tonight the New York Film Festival showed off the first of its wares with the opening night world premiere of David Fincher's “Gone Girl.” A faithful adaptation of Gillian Flynn's twisted 2012 page-turner, it brings a very different swagger into the season, one of cynicism, the cold chill of deep truths ripe for the kind of dead-faced satire the filmmaker has bathed them in here. But is it an Oscar player for Fox or will the Academy flinch? (I hate myself for even typing that sentence, trust me.)
Fincher may not want to play the awards season game anymore after having a lot of the fight taken out of him by his last two campaigns, but here “Gone Girl” is anyway, with a big, splashy premiere at a prestigious fall festival and a release pattern square in the corridor that has proved useful for the last couple of Best Picture winners. Whether he's up for the circuit or not, Fox sure would like to net a few trophies, so into the fog it goes.
Still, though there have been some stellar notices, the studio is hardly working with blanket approval. Manohla Dargis at The New York Times penned the most notable detraction, and before going on to do a fairly precise job, I feel, of diagnosing some of what's off about the film, she writes something key: that Fincher is “one of those filmmakers whose technical prowess can make the mediocrity of his material seem irrelevant (almost).” It's that “almost” that sticks.
With films like “Se7en” and “Zodiac,” Fincher has transcended genre through classicism so expertly that when he tackles something actually designed for classicism – like, say, “The Social Network” – it's like a symphony clicking into pace. But his last two movies, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and now “Gone Girl,” have been interested in just the opposite, transcending classicism through genre. But they ultimately feel burdened by their pop cultural beginnings. Thought-provoking though it may be, “Gone Girl” sort of glides across socio-political notes about the recession and the psyche of commitment with a commentary more glancing than expected, or warranted. (Counter that with a movie like Denis Villeneuve's “Enemy,” which gives you truly throbbing marriage metaphors to chew on.) Other points, like considerations of celebrity and the media, are bludgeoned with a sledgehammer, making for an odd dichotomy at the film's center.
There are some outstanding moments, though. A handful of sequences really give editor Kirk Baxter an argument for Academy recognition (after winning Oscars for Fincher's “Social Network” and “Dragon Tattoo,” no less). Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' score is devilishly twisted as they took the director's unsettling massage parlor muzak directive to heart (mingling with other atmospheric elements well in Ren Klyce and company's sound mix). Rosamund Pike is mostly captivating (it's impossible to go into detail, though, without spoiling the film) and Ben Affleck is a perfect anchor throughout. But he's less likely to crack the Best Actor race than she is to claim residence in a less competitive leading lady field, certainly.
All that having been said, I don't think it's controversial to posit that a film like this is not going to play broadly, and probably not well to older, more conservative audiences. So its Oscar fate is up for debate. The question then becomes whether it can build enough passion to get there on the backs of die-hards. Then again, “Dragon Tattoo” seemed destined for a spot. Tons of industry approval – DGA, WGA, PGA, etc. – but at the end of the day, with nine Best Picture nominees, it didn't happen.
When Fox roared into the New York fest two years ago with “Life of Pi,” the fuse was lit for Oscar glory. When they came back with “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” a year later, the whole enterprise stalled. “Gone Girl” is likely to be more critically acclaimed than either, but that can only get you so far this time of year.
“Gone Girl” opens in theaters Oct. 3.