Review: Gone Girl (2014)

Gone Girl

Rating

Director
David Fincher
Screenplay
Gillian Flynn (Novel: Gillian Flynn)
Length
149 min.
Starring
Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit
MPAA Rating
R for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language

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Review
Based on the acclaimed novel of the same name, Gone Girl explores the complicated relationship between a man and his wife, but who’s playing whom is part of the fun at the center of the film’s mystery.

It’s easy to give away crucial details to the film’s plot as a mid-film twist turns it from complex whodunit into a mix between psychological thriller and psychosexual drama. The shift doesn’t come entirely out of nowhere and in spite of the tonal shift, everything feels naturally derived, taking us from sympathy for Ben Affleck as the husband to revulsion and back again to sympathy. Meanwhile, our disappointment over the death of Rosamund Pike’s gentle soul turns quickly to shock and bewilderment, then utter disbelief as she’s exposed as having been someone much more devious.

Affleck and Pike work exceptionally well together. Their palpable chemistry helps construct the narrative of two loving, caring individuals crumbling under the weight of financial malaise and marital infidelity. Affleck’s late-career emergence as a formidable actor began with his work as George Reeves in Hollywoodland and has continued unabated. While he hasn’t been as good as he was in the film about the original superman, he’s quietly evocative here and conveys such a rich characterization that in spite of some of his more dubious acts, he remains a character for whom the audience maintains sympathy.

Pike lies on the other end of the spectrum. Her initial performance is that of a devoted wife who wouldn’t harm a fly, but by the film’s end, the story has developed her into a conniving, dangerous woman who did whatever she could to take down her cheating husband. Pike leaves nothing behind, delving full throttle into an iconic performance that will rank up there with the likes of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.

David Fincher has often been accused of creating lengthy, unfiltered looks at the depravity of human nature. He takes unlikable characters and gives them a layer of humanity few directors seem interested in exploring. Affleck’s Nick Dunne is a stunning example of how to manufacture an individual that’s deeply flawed, modestly disgusting and yet wholly empathetic. Affleck helps with that depiction, but screenwriter Gillian Flynn, with Fincher’s prodigious cinematic experience, gives Dunne a satisfying layer of realism.

While Pike’s Amy Dunne may be a completely overwhelming presence, but there’s truth behind her anger and frustration. While the character teeters on incredulity, she’s counterbalanced by two of the strongest female characters crafted last year. Kim Dickens as the put-upon detective who must unravel the case while keeping her eyes firmly on Nick as primary suspect, she questions his motives, dives into his altruistic appearance and never relinquishes control over the investigation. Her grave doubts about his guilt are masked by certainty at the mountains of evidence piling against him. While others around her seem to have formed an impression of guilt, she reserves her opinion until the final piece of the puzzle is placed.

Carrie Coon, who plays Nick’s defensive sister Margo gives the film its heart. She never dissolves into a puddle of sorrow and remorse, her fierce distrust of Amy help bolster her support of her dear brother. However, as his lies dismantle her confidence, she briefly laments what she’s done to him, but strengthens as she must to protect Nick as she realizes that all his weaknesses are nothing compared to what Amy had done to him.

Fincher’s capabilities as director have been increasingly compelling over the last few years. Seldom has an effort he’s made not turned into a thoroughly thrilling film experience. He successfully blends fascinating premises with tense excitement to create films that are at once both populist and auteuristic. His skills as a director are based on simple, familiar techniques used with sparse creativity. His films feel traditional, yet fiercely original.

Gone Girl successfully blends the elements we’ve come to adore from a David Fincher film with a story that twists, turns, convinces and confuses with equal measure. By the time we get to the end, some questions remain, but they are the ones that demand the audience think and contemplate what they’ve seen and decide for themselves not who the monster is, but why it is.
Spoiler Discussion
This is a film where knowing in advance that Amy Dunne is not dead and has been carefully crafting the downfall of her husband can completely destroy the level of enjoyment offered by uncovering the fact. Discussing the Neil Patrick Harris character, a truly frightening man capable of so much, but easily falling prey to Amy’s dark machinations, would also be difficult in a review that relies on shocks as this. It’s a departure for him and he nails it.

This is a film that almost defies explanation as much as it does demands secrecy. If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, it’s imperative that you do so before having any meaningful debate over its content. The film has understandably rankled those who think this provides men a scapegoat in defining women as psychotic, manipulative creatures, but that overstates something simple. By exaggerating her actions, we open a conversation about the degree to which men defend themselves against an unreasonable depiction of women. Amy’s attitude is ludicrous, almost to the point of parody, which showcases just how idiotic some claims are about how depraved women are. Reverse the roles and you would immediately see the level of outcry over the completely unrealistic depiction of a man from the very men who claim that this is an accurate portrayal of a manipulative woman.

Amy’s completely overwhelming characterization is balanced by the more realistic women surrounding Nick: his sister Margo and the police detective. These women exemplify the creation of thoughtful, honest depictions of women, depictions that are too often lacking in modern filmmaking. Does Amy’s depravity outweigh those others? Yes and no. And that’s one of the reasons why Gone Girl succeeds. Debate is imperative, almost required for this type of film and if you have trouble rationalizing everything in your head, then the film has succeeded.

Review Written

March 30, 2015

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