Gone Girl (2014) / Thriller-Mystery
MPAA Rated: R for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language
Running Time: 149 min.
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Missi Pyle, Patrick Fugit, Casey Wilson, Emily Ratajkowski, David Clennon, Lisa Banes, Lola Kirke, Boyd Holbrook
Small role: Sela Ward, Scoot McNairy
Director: David Fincher
Screenplay: Gillian Flynn (based on her novel)
Review published October 5, 2014
Laid-off journalist Nick Dunne (Affleck, Runner Runner) and his wife Amy (Pike, The World's End) find themselves having to move from bustling New York to suburban Missouri in order to attend to Nick's cancer-stricken mother. Financial pressures exacerbate their already toxic marital problems, and on the day of their 5th anniversary, Nick reports Amy is missing and their home shows signs of a struggle. The ensuing investigation points to Nick as the likely culprit. Although maintaining his innocence, Nick ahs his work cut out for him in the court of public opinion, as each successive unsavory revelation gets splashed across the media, as Amy is pop culture icon, thanks to a popular series of books Amy's parents wrote about her life growing up.
Gillian Flynn adapts and streamlines her own best-selling novel of the same name, but through the unique filter of auteur David Fincher (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), who puts his own stamp on the material to deliver one of his finest films, and his most populist. Certainly Fincher could have been successful just cribbing from the style of the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, who made quite a few films with the sort of intriguing developments that transpire in Gone Girl. But he goes against the grain by playing the movie as more downbeat, and it works quite well, as the subdued approach allows more time for character touches to breathe, building suspense through story over style, and keeping audiences hooked in for what happens next all the way to its long-in-coming finale.
Though relatively faithful to the book, fans of the original pulp novel note that Fincher has also taken what reads like a satirical mirror to society, especially in how crime produces celebrities in the current media culture, and delves far darker. Instead of the cynical portrayal about the media and celeb culture, he has concentrated his focus more on how marriage can just as well produce resentment, hatred and even murderous thoughts, as two people bound together with no other way out begin to target one another as the source of their current woes.
Fincher benefits from excellent casting of actors one could easily have assumed wouldn't have been special, given their track record. Ben Affleck is very engaging as Nick, as he plays so naive throughout much of the early parts of the movie, and yet so disingenous at times, we aren't really sure how we feel about his side of the story. Affleck has to tread a very subtle line between loveable doofus, smarmy conniver, and abusive galoot, which he does with great gusto. However, as fine as Affleck is, all the buzz will likely go to the star-making turn for Rosamund Pike, an actress who has always had the looks to be a major star, but has yet to really show as much nuance in a mainstream film for people to see her as more than a competent actress with a pretty face. I can't really reveal much as to why her complex work merits such praise due to potential spoilers, but I can only guarantee that when you see the film, you'll understand why she delivers so well.
The supporting cast is just as impressive, starting with a relatively unknown actress in Carrie Coon ("The Leftovers"), who has a high-profile role as Nick's twin sister, Margo, and the only one he can count on to always be on his side, even if she also begins to waver in her trust in this man who seemingly has a few things to hide, even from her. Tyler Perry (The Single Moms Club, A Madea Christmas) also comes through with perhaps his best performance in a film to date, as a lawyer who has to manage Nick's public performance to try to turn the tide of public opinion in their favor before they chew him up and spit him out entirely. (I'm struck that a film which seems to echo Euripides' "Medea" would also contain the actor who made the name "Madea" famous.)
I'll make no bones about the fact that much of the film continues in the tradition of over-the-top, lurid thrillers such as Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, and many others, but I will say that, in that genre, this may be the best of that bunch in terms of all of the elements coming together. It's not only entertaining, but a really interesting conversation piece, as part of the fun comes from discussing the various themes of the film with others who've also seen it, and trying to resolve the motivation of every player. And also how such knowingly pulp entertainment isn't really so far off in terms of how news organizations (crime-story hawk Nancy Grace seems to be a main target, portrayed very nicely by Missi Pyle (A Haunted House 2) as the badgering news host Ellen Abbott) make every molehill a mountain in this 24-hour news cycle that continues to drum up the most prurient aspects to keep the all-important ratings up.
Add to this a captivatingly offbeat and mesmerizing score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, sleek cinematography from Jeff Cronenweth (Hitchcock), a plotline bitingly cynical in its representations of the institutions of law, journalism and marriage, and some really raw and cutting dialogue by Flynn, and you have one of the most potent Hollywood thrillers to emerge in recent years. So many elements at play, each individual component remains well oiled, and even if some of the turn-screw elements feel as manipulative to audiences as the characters are to each other, we forgive the indiscretions and a few plot holes for the sake of the overall entertainment. The serpentine, thought-provoking Gone Girl is as efficient a vehicle as they come.
©2014 Vince Leo