Review: Gone Girl
Full disclosure – I have not read Gillian Flynn’s ‘Gone Girl’, the source of director David Fincher’s latest pulpy thriller of the same name. I entered with some level of assumption that the film would mostly align with the book given that Flynn also penned the screenplay. Book fans may correct me, but that’s the perspective I had going in. And I’m glad I did.
I think I know how a soccer goalie feels when he’s tasked with stopping a penalty kick. All the goalie can do is guess which direction the kick will go, and more often than not, the guess will be wrong. That’s what it’s like watching ‘Gone Girl’. Every time I think I’ve figured something out, I jump one way only to watch the ball go the other. While it feels like walking a tightrope without a net at times, Fincher’s hand is firmly in control of this experience, guiding us down varying paths- manipulating us into choosing sides- forcing us to see an underbelly of society that we are much more content to ignore. There are themes to be discussed here if that’s your fancy. Relationships, marriage, commitment, gender ideology – it’s all there for the taking. Or you can just allow the twists and turns of a dark, he said/she said whodunit consume you for 150 minutes, because that’s a lot of fun too.
Perception is the key that unlocks your experience with ‘Gone Girl.’ Where you align on the scale of the aforementioned themes will likely drive your thought process as this tale unfolds. For those uninitiated to the story, we have Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), an outwardly loving couple with a festering resentment of each other. When Nick comes home on their fifth wedding anniversary to find Amy missing and signs of foul play, it sets the main narrative arc into motion. Where is Amy and what happened to her?
I’m not going to dive any deeper into the investigative arc of the plot. Book readers know the big twist and I won’t deny non-readers the discovery. Suffice it to say what you think you know isn’t always the truth. What we discover as truth needs to be parsed from a barrage of media sensationalism and talking head bullshit- something the film cracks you over the head with- because in this country, public opinion is swayed by whatever wind the news media feels compelled to blow up your ass on any given day. Fair? Hardly. But we eat this shit up.
Looking under the surface of ‘Gone Girl’, there is an examination of societal norms and how they might equate to family and relationships. What are our roles? What drives us to think and act the way we do around each other? To what end are we willing to go? ‘Gone Girl’ is an extreme – an exception rather than a norm. The type of case which results in a street lined with media outlets in a quiet suburban neighborhood and the best trial lawyer in the country reaching out to you via cable news. If you feel the film nudges you toward a specific side of a larger debate, that’s on you. The story certainly corners you into choosing sides, even if it feels dirty doing so. None of these people are upstanding citizens.
Affleck is perfectly cast as the charming, slightly meat headed husband who is thrown into the national spotlight and tried in the court of public opinion. The tone and atmosphere of ‘Gone Girl’ aligns with some of Affleck’s own directorial efforts, such as ‘Gone Baby Gone’ and ‘The Town’, so the transition to the front of the camera here feels natural. Make no mistake though, Rosamund Pike breaks out in a big way as the neurotic, perhaps psychotic spouse. ‘Gone Girl’ fails miserably if Pike isn’t up to the task, and she delivers.
Anchored by the strong leads, ‘Gone Girl’ is chock full of sharp supporting performances as well. Kim Dickens buoys the supporting cast with her strong, quick witted Detective Rhonda Boney heading up the investigation of Amy’s disappearance. On the other side, Carrie Coon shines as Nick’s sister Margo, torn between the pull of media condemnation and allegiance to her brother. Other notable moments come courtesy of out of genre turns by Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris. There’s even a Patrick Fugit sighting, which I appreciate since ‘Almost Famous’ is my favorite movie and Fugit seems to have disappeared from the public consciousness since Stillwater hosed him on his Rolling Stone interview.
Visually, ‘Gone Girl’ feels very Fincher. The man takes such great pains to ensure every shot of every scene is framed to maneuver you exactly where he wants you to be as a viewer. It’s not to manipulate, just to keep you guessing. Nothing is predictable in the world of David Fincher. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross collaborate again on the score, this time opting for a muted and subtle presence over some of the more forceful accompaniments they have brought forth in the past. It works.
First and foremost, ‘Gone Girl’ is an edge of your seat thriller. The film never bogs down over the course of the two and a half hour runtime. There are too many hairpin turns and red herrings throughout to allow any sort of complacency to take hold. For me, it’s among Fincher’s best work. If you want to move the thematic debate outside, I’m cool with that as well. Isn’t that what good films are supposed to do anyway? Spark conversation? You should want to walk away from ‘Gone Girl’ wanting to discuss it. It should make you think about how we’ve ended up where we are as a society and as individuals within our own fragile relationships. But we shouldn’t feel guilty for simply loving the shit out of this film either.
4.5 out of 5