Rating: 4 stars (out of 4)
Gone Girl (2014): Dir. David Fincher. Written by Gillian Flynn, based upon her novel of the same name. Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon, Tyler Perry, and Neil Patrick Harris. Rated R for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language. Running time: 149 minutes.
Gone Girl especially demands a spoiler-free review, posing quite the challenge for the would-be critic. I realize that makes the film seem utterly dependent on plot developments, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. I mean that it’s difficult to describe what makes this film so perceptive and provocative, to talk about how things happen, without first providing context for what is happening.
Alas, I’ll do my best to resist potential spoilers. Be it known David Fincher and screenwriter Gillian Flynn have transformed what feels like pulpy material into a probing commentary on stories of its ilk. The narrative belies the real questions at the heart of it all.
The premise of the film has the ripped-from-the-headlines feel of a Lifetime Original Movie. Ben Affleck’s Nick Dunne discovers that his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) has disappeared without a trace. Details emerge about their unhappy marriage, and suspicion is cast upon the husband. But Fincher and Flynn move far beyond the surface details of your standard procedural. They’re interested in what cases like this mean to a multitude of different people.
As you might expect, the media descends like a whirlwind. Who is Nick Dunne? Why doesn’t he seem distraught over the disappearance of his dearly beloved? And most importantly, how can we spin this? These questions come first from the news media, then find new sources in Nick’s friends and family.
Ben Affleck’s Nick has a hard enough time wrestling with his guilt and confusion over his wife’s disappearance to deal with an increasingly irksome police investigation, headed by the no-nonsense Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and her passive-aggressive partner Gilpin (Patrick Fugit). Nick finds an ally in his sister Margo (played brilliantly by Carrie Coons), but even that relationship is strained by Nick’s reluctance to reveal everything he knows.
I’ve always resisted Affleck as an actor—he’s proven exactly two modes of performance over his career: flat and emotionless (see: The Town, Argo) or the fratboy jester (see: Good Will Hunting, Shakespeare in Love). He’s not necessarily doing a lot new here, but dammit if Fincher doesn’t know how to use that affectlessness to the utmost advantage. His stoic delivery and static face make him a prime target for a media circus—and foster our own uncertainty toward him.
Speaking of strange casting choices—Neil Patrick Harris? Tyler Perry? The two may have been cast to subvert expectations of their more popular screen personas. Both do admirable work that resists potential showiness, making their characters that much more fascinating. Perry’s defense attorney has a wry sense of fun, while Harris plays a former boyfriend of Amy’s with uncanny self-control.
The true knockout performance is Rosamund Pike as Amy—a practical unknown to mainstream audiences (except for those who remember 2002’s James Bond film Die Another Day or the Edgar Wright comedy The World’s End from last year, neither of which can prepare you for what she does here). We learn more and more about her from Nick’s investigations, and the more we learn about Amy the more fascinating Pike’s multilayered performance becomes. Be very surprised if she doesn’t earn an Oscar nod come awards season.
The film is such an onslaught of different forces—news media, law enforcement, the in-laws, and that thorny devil of memory—but thanks to tight direction from David Fincher (surprise, surprise) the film never stretches itself too thin. At two and a half hours, the film moves at a clean but unhurried pace. Makes sense for a film that’s constantly redefining our expectations, and our reactions, to what transpires.
Working with cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth (with whom he’s forged an excellent partnership on Fight Club, The Social Network, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Fincher paints his world in brilliant contrasts. Light and shadow weave and overlap on faces, bodies, and quiet cul-de-sacs. That’s not just a Fincher trademark; it’s a thematic decision that speaks specifically to the characters of Gone Girl. They’re constantly in flux.
There’s also the impeccable eye for setting—you get a sense of space and danger from a single shot. Look how Fincher stages a scene in an abandoned mall, as druggies scurry away from police flashlights like rats. Or how he creates menace from the most conventional of suburban streets.
The dialogue sings with knowing cleverness—appropriate because its characters think they’re smarter than they usually are. Some may find Flynn’s script too obviously didiactic, because its characters keep offering their unique perspectives on the case. But the movie tests, challenges, and outright flies in the face of their sureties. The film never confirms any one story.
I’ve tried to remain coy about plot details, but your knowledge of them won’t make or break your appreciation of the film’s broader ambitions. I’m still attempting to piece this film together. I saw Gone Girl once for the answers. I can’t wait to see it again, this time to focus on the questions.
–The CineMaverick, 10/14/2014