On the occasion of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) reports that his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), has gone missing. Under pressure from the police and growing media frenzy, Nick’s portrait of a blissful union begins to crumble. Soon his lies, deceits and strange behavior have everyone asking the same dark question: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?
The film is based on the wildly popular (best seller) novel by Gillian Flynn. I’ll preface this review with the caveat that I have read, and am a huge fan of the book. I’ll try to stray away from spoiler territory!
Gone Girl, the film, already has an advantage as an adaptation, in that the screenplay was also written by the author of the source material. Gone Girl combines an intriguing story with an excellent cast and top notch director. It is an exceptional thriller – equal parts tense and satirical.
The film opens with Nick pondering over his relationship with his wife “What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other?” Neither Nick, nor Amy, is the person they want us to believe they are. The story is told as a “he-said, she-said” narrative. As Nick explains his side of the story to a pair of detectives (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) who aren’t buying what he’s selling, the missing Amy tells her story through voice-overs (her diary entries) and flashbacks. It’s a complicated and thoroughly entertaining take on the art of appearances.
Director David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en, Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) deftly navigates the complexity of deceitful characters, complicated plotting, flashbacks and voiceovers with intelligence and stylish grace. He uses the fade outs and subdued tones to add an air of theatricality and grittiness to the film. The tone of the film is matched by the industrial sounding, minimalistic score as composed by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor – it ramps the tension in the best scenes. Fincher paces the film beautifully – frustrating in the best way. The story quietly builds into a maddening mystery – with twists and turns that rival the duplicitous nature of the main characters.
The loyalty and sympathies of the audience sway as Nick becomes further and further entrenched and implicated in the disappearance of Amy. The cast of this film is perfect. Each member of the cast fits with the characterizations from the book (even Tyler Perry, who I was wary of).
Ben Affleck stars as Nick Dunne, in quite possibly the best casting choice for this film. Picture this press conference scene from early in the book (and the trailer):
“The news reports would show Nick Dunne, husband of the missing woman, standing metallically next to his father-in-law [Rand], arms crossed, eyes glazed, looking almost bored as Amy’s parents wept. And then worse. My longtime response, the need to remind people I wasn’t a dick, I was a nice guy despite the affectless stare, the haughty, douchebag face.
So there it came, out of nowhere, as Rand begged for his daughter’s return: a killer smile.”
Affleck brings a certain level of apathy (which he is often criticized for) to his character. He plays the part of the self-absorbed, shallow and curiously unflustered husband perfectly. His likable everyman shtick is put on with a sly sense of dishonesty. Fincher is getting some great work from Affleck – a fantastic performance that fosters both sympathy and the suspicion. (Rumor has it that Fincher cast Affleck after googling his smile).
As much as we question the motives and actions of Nick, his wife Amy is another interesting and deceptive character. From her perspective, she’s a doting wife, while from Nick’s point of view, she’s an unsatisfied and unhappy woman. Rosamund Pike (Pride and Prejudice, Die Another Day) is strikingly cunning as Amy Elliot-Dunne. It’s difficult to talk about her performance without giving away major plot details – but for fans of the book – she is so incredibly well cast. Pike immerses herself in the full range of the duplicitous Amy – extremely vulnerable at one turn, self-assured “cool girl” at the next, and deviously austere when necessary. Without Pike, the film wouldn’t be quite as interesting to watch – she’s so impressive.
Affleck and Pike are supported by an interesting mix of actors. Tyler Perry is a pleasant surprise as the slimy lawyer Tanner Bolt. The superb Carrie Coon plays Margo Dunne, Nick’s level-headed twin sister who provides a justifiable amount of concern, outrage and sarcasm to the story. The local law enforcement, Detective Rhonda Boney and Officer Jim Gilpin are brilliantly envisioned by a droll Kim Dickens and disillusioned Patrick Fugit – leading the audience through the retelling of an unhappy marriage and increasingly damning collection of evidence as the story unfolds. The weakest performance in the entire film is given by Neil Patrick Harris as Desi Collings, a bland and completely unrealized characterization of a man who was obsessed with Amy in her younger years.
Outside of its profoundly cynical view on marriage and relationships, the film (and the book) provide a sharp and witty satire of the state of our “tabloid news” and the mantra of “guilty until proven innocent”. The witch-hunt that Nick Dunne is dragged through – complete with Missi Pyle’s hilarious and completely satisfying take on Nancy Grace-type “reporting” – provides an excellent commentary on our use of media and our media obsession.
Gone Girl is a finely crafted film, elegantly paced and dark. It’s exploration of a toxic relationship manages to be stylish, clever, often times subversively funny and grotesque in equal measure.
Gone Girl is a mystery that mesmerizes its audience. Go see it…before it’s going..going…Gone.