Gone Girl

Gone Girl photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgFor those unfamiliar with my reviews. I do NOT reveal spoilers. Never have and I never will. And let me tell you, if ever there was a production that could be ruined by the reveal of pivotal developments, it’s this picture. Rest assured the review that follows will only affirm that there are plot twists that make Gone Girl exceptionally engrossing. What those developments are will remain a mystery. The discovery of those surprises constitute the joy of an exciting thriller.

At its core, Gone Girl is about the union of two people. It concerns Nick and Amy Dunne, a pair who met, courted each other and fell in love. Theirs was a storybook romance. But as any married couple will attest, marriage isn‘t all smooth sailing. Life gets difficult when both Nick and Amy lose their jobs. Then Nick’s mother is diagnosed with cancer. In order to care for his mom, they move from the hustle and bustle of New York City to the sedate existence of Nick’s hometown in North Carthage, Missouri. Relying on Amy’s trust fund, they buy a bar which eats up more of their money than it earns. Nick seeks solace in an affair. He’s the classic example of the philandering husband. Nick is growing increasingly miserable and Amy subsequently fears for her safety. When the tragedy begins, Amy is already gone. We learn this in flashback. For you see, on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne returns home to find a smashed coffee table and a missing wife. The police are called in only to discover a perplexing crime scene that solicits more questions than it answers.

Anyone who was living in the U.S. and old enough to remember 2003 will make the connection. One can easily point to the Scott Petersen case as a possible real life inspiration for this chronicle. Scott and Laci were an attractive couple in their late 20s that appeared to be in love. Laci disappeared on December 24, 2002. At first, he was a sympathetic individual. Then he grew seemingly more insensitive. His reluctance to talk to the press fueled a disinterred persona that turned him into a public pariah. His numerous extramarital affairs would later surface. She was eight months pregnant with their unborn child. Scott was charged and ultimately convicted of murdering his wife and their unborn son.

The Gone Girl ensemble mesh like the movement of a precision timepiece. There’s no denying that Ben Affleck is perfectly cast as the lunkheaded doofus of a husband. He’s a douchebag that is more concerned with preserving his own skin than the welfare of his wife. His glib behavior reads as insincere. He maintains he didn’t kill his wife.  The evidence starts to prove otherwise.  The very first line of the film is a voiceover that states he’d like to bash her head in and pick her brain apart to see what secrets come spilling out. As remarkable as he and the rest of the male company are, it’s the women who truly shine in Gone Girl.

Rosamund Pike’s performance as Amy signals the arrival of a star. Until now, she was probably best known as Bond girl Miranda Frost in Die Another Day (2002). Using the pages of her diary, we flash back to a time before her disappearance. She is the central focus of the production. She’s beautiful and so we’re initially drawn to her for superficial reasons. Then we question our own perceptions. She exhibits a bit of the ice queen mentality. She is a complex person that becomes more fascinating the deeper we get into the details. Rosamund embodies Amy as a woman losing her handle on a situation and then regaining it. We feel sorry for her, then we hate her, we sympathize again, then we are disgusted. Back and forth over and over. It’s a dizzying balancing act that makes her an endlessly compelling personality.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie with so many formidable women in key roles. Actress Kim Dickens is Detective Rhonda Boney, the person entrusted with investigating the disappearance of Amy. A suspicious cop, her scenes where she interacts with Ben Affleck accentuates an intelligent mastery of control of the situation.  She’s joined by Detective Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) but she’s clearly in charge. Then there’s Margo. Nick’s wise-alecky twin sister whom he affectionately calls Go. A rather sarcastic type, she is brilliantly played by Carrie Coon. As his twin, Margo is 100% devoted to her brother. Perhaps blinded by their familial bond, she believes him implicitly. They are extremely close. So close in fact that their relationship is misrepresented as “twincest” by a flippant news media. Then his infidelity surfaces and her doubt multiplies ten-fold.

At heart Gone Girl is a marriage fable. But this isn’t the fantasy of an idealized romance. It’s the tale of the institution as a prison. A jail that locks two people in a dungeon of souls desiring to break free. The dialogue attempts to present both sides of their failed union. It’s a he said/she said account. If the saga has a failing, it’s that the portrait of their artificial wedded bliss seems to favor Nick’s side to the detriment of Amy. The script raises some red flags. The narrative elucidates his motivations more clearly than hers.  It doesn’t make the drama any less imperative. It’s still a crackerjack thriller.  It also has some salient points to make about the role the scandal obsessed television plays in the presentation of a prefabricated tale of consumption for the masses. Talking head tabloid reporters are epitomized by Sela Ward and Missi Pyle. The latter’s character is amusingly pattered after Nancy Grace. The two actresses are extraordinarily good in minor parts. The lie and the truth are simply ideas that the news manipulates to create a shared perception for the masses. This theme infuses the storyline throughout her entire picture. What initially appears to be important is made irrelevant. What seems insignificant is made crucial. The reality is always deeper than what is readily apparent. Gone Girl highlights this fact. And by doing so, not only entertains, but also educates us in how truth is merely a moldable concept of the modern media age.

10-02-14

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33 Responses to “Gone Girl”

  1. Thanks for not only avoiding spoilers, but telling me that most other reviews will probably contain them. I will keep my head down, until I have seen this, and then dive into other reviews. Great work, as ever.

  2. Thank you for not revealing any major spoilers in your review. I went into this completly blind and I feel that is the best way to see this movie. I will agree that the women in this are the best and Roseamund Pike so far is my choice for Best Actress this year. She is a complex character for sure, but is fully fascinating Great job

    • I definitely feel Gone Girl will get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Whether Rosamund Pike deserves a nomination depends a lot on what other films come out. But at this early stage I totally agree. She’s incredible.

  3. I could not possibly be more excited for Gone Girl. I just finished the book last night, and just about everything I’ve done since (aside from sleeping and watching a few episodes of Friends with my sister) has been devoted to obsessive watching of interviews from the cast and crew.

    (POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH)

    I loved the book. Such a page-turner. But I absolutely hated the narrating characters. Nick lost all interest in being, well, a good husband, and that made me sympathize for Amy. But then I also grew to dislike Amy, because she responds in a way that’s completely uncalled for. I couldn’t stand how she treated her husband like the center of middle school drama, or something of that nature.

    My biggest fear that these two conflicting points of view, as well as Amy’s complex character, and all those red herrings throughout the story, wouldn’t translate to film very well, but seeing from your review, they might be just as evident in the film.

    I’m so excited. Thanks, Mark, for putting up such an elaborate review, for putting it up so quickly, and of course for avoiding spoilers.

    • The movie attempts to represent both sides in their marital woes. However I thought the script sided more with the husband.

      • It probably did, but I didn’t really notice when I was watching the movie. Still, his perspective is more easy to agree to. We side with her character back and forth in the book, sort of switching between the two as one discovers or reveals the marital evils of the other. But Gillian Flynn did a good job of putting us inside of Amy’s complex perspective in the book. The kind of perspective that’s such a mess, it can only seem highly irrational in a movie that’s not five hours or longer.

  4. I’d like to read the book–I’m watching this today so thanks for no spoilers. Excellent review.

    • I’m such a movie fan that I view the book as spoiling the movie. I guess that’s just me though. It’s the common custom: read the book then see the movie.

  5. The problem is the lesson learned as your final lines suggest have been taught in probably a hundred ‘Law & Order’ episodes. The “storybook romance” you refer to is almost too storybook in that it never feels real, which is the point possibly but it makes later actions ring false, which you hint at when you talked about the script’s “red flags.” To me, this movie felt like ‘House of Cards’ in its offensive and oppressive cynicism, and its centering itself on a Frank Underwood-like character, yet the twist was just patently ridiculous.

    • This was nothing new but it did present the subject with a lot of style and flair. I didn’t even mention the soundtrack but that went a long way in making this story really captivating.

  6. It’s been awhile since the last time I seen a really fun Fincher movie, but thankfully, this is it and it seems he’s back to his old ways. Good review Mark.

    • I love everything he does. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was his last film in 2011 and I liked this more, but The Social Network in 2010 was pretty flawless.

  7. Two days later and I’m still thinking about this film. It was very well done. So many great performances. Great soundtrack. This will definitely garner Academy Award noms. I kinda wanna see it again. 5 stars.

    • Picture, Director, Actress (Rosamund Pike), Supp. Actress (Carrie Coon), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Score – They’re all possibilities for nominations.

  8. Heck of a review man, particularly for a film that is this fully-realized and this complex. My goodness, I’m looking at one of the better movie of 2014.

    And this, coming off the back of me wanting to say the same about The Skeleton Twins. Ben Affleck is winning my trust day by day, i have to say.

    Although at this point i think this movie says more about Rosamund Pike than it does Affleck.

    • Affleck’s performance got me thinking…

      The Best Actor is always a very competitive race at the Oscars. I suspect Gone Girl will get some recognition and his performance will undoubtedly be part of the discussion. Although Affleck is well cast, his part isn’t particularly demanding.

      So who is in the running? It’s fun to speculate. Early buzz surrounding performances by Michael Keaton (Birdman) and Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) are already starting to gain serious momentum.

  9. I’m with you..I don’t do spoilers in my reviews either as I hate it when someone does it to me so I return the favour. that being said, I saw the movie on Thursday and am still scribbling my review just to avoid doing so.. great review..and others will thank you for not spoiling!! 😀

    • I realize it’s customary to put a *** WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD **** notice before revealing major plot twists. (Don’t worry, I’m not actually revealing any spoilers. Those CAPS were just to make a visual point) But inevitably, even the most careful reader may accidentally glance ahead and see something they shouldn’t have. I say, don’t even put the temptation there in the first place, especially for brand new films.

  10. Great review. I really enjoyed this but I was trying to figure out what was ever so slightly off for me and I agree after reading this that the script is more sympathetic to Nick.

  11. very true. it smashes the ideal of the perfect marriage. great film

  12. I’m hoping to see this over the weekend, so it’s good to see a high score. Fincher’s one of the most interesting directors working today.

  13. GaryLE828 Says:

    Just finally went and saw this today. Fincher has such an effective grasp and control on the pacing of his stories; there is never a wasted frame. I also loved “Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”. “Gone Girl” for me was quite disturbing, particularly the sequence w/ NPH at the lake house! One of the more disturbing scenes I’ve seen in film – I think mostly b/c it caught you so off-guard; but that’s the sign of a master director to be able to throw you off and keep you on your toes. These are the kinds of films I love! 🙂 I think Hitchcock would approve of Fincher’s choices. I also really liked “Side Effects” which had a very similar vibe as this. I think Soderbergh and Finch have a similar style. David Cronenberg, as well.

    • I agree with everything you said. I think Side Effects is a good comparison. Another film that definitely draws on Hitchcock’s style. I really enjoyed Side Effects quite a bit, but I dare say that Gone Girl is even better.

      • GaryLE828 Says:

        Yes, it’s a little more intricate – and honestly, the last act of “Side Effects” wraps up a little too conveniently; “Gone Girl” doesn’t compromise any of the integrity of the story at the conclusion, even though it goes against the grain. The story just leaves you to wonder and assume what will happen next. Not a popular choice to end a film, but congruent with the tone the film set out for and was so masterfully executed by Fincher.

  14. Fantastic review! Glad you liked it. The heart of the film is something that David Fincher makes clear and both Affleck and Pike are accustomed to with every characteristic of their performances – is that Gone Girl is in the long run, a love story, one made accurate by its contrariness.

  15. Sadly I missed Gone Girl in theatres, but I have read the book so I was able to follow along with your review and understand everything you get at. Great job at tiptoeing around spoilers by the way. It sounds like the movie does an excellent job of portraying the complexities of marriage and its pitfalls, as revealed in the book. I’m glad to hear that Affleck and Pike really shine in their roles, because once I started reading the book I thought they’d be perfect as Nick and Amy. Affleck can pull off that smug, self-absorbed part of Nick and Pike is excellent at projecting that air of innocence and intrigue needed for Amy. I hadn’t even thought of the real-life parallels to the Peterson case, so kudos for bringing those up. I’m looking forward to catching this movie after I finish the stack of screeners I have at my place.

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