Gone Girl Review

(3.5 STARS)

There’s an interesting correlation that exists within David Fincher’s filmography: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button aside, the more shocking and memorable a film’s chief psychopath is, the better the film is as a whole. Kevin Spacey’s John Doe made Se7en one of the most horrifying films of all time, and characters like Tyler Durden and Mark Zuckerberg aren’t psychopaths in the same way, but both are a little twisted and most definitely unforgettable.

On the other hand, can you remember much about Stellan Skarsgard’s character in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Or who even played the villain in Panic Room?

Discussing Gone Girl‘s chief psychopath is a little complicated for a variety of reasons. For one, it would mean spoiling some of the film’s best surprises (surprises that made me seek out the book before the internet spoiled the film). More interestingly, however, is the notion that the identity of a “chief psychopath” can vary from viewer to viewer. But this collection of psychos ranks among Fincher’s most memorable, and perhaps because of that, Gone Girl ranks among the directors better films.

The film (and the book) unfolds across three very distinct acts. The first introduces us to Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and, through her diary, his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike). On the morning of their fifth anniversary, Amy disappears mysteriously from their Missouri home. Signs point to a struggle, and while Nick spent a few hours of that day at the bar he co-owns with his twin sister, Margot (Carrie Coon), investigating detectives Boney (Kim Dickens) and Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) are suspicious of the few hours he spent that morning alone at the beach.

As the days go on, news of Amy’s disappearance goes national. She’s the inspiration for a best-selling series of children’s books, and as a result, she’s collected a series of frightening admirers over the course of her life. But maybe none is as frightening as Nick, for the last line in her diary reads, “This man may truly kill me.”

What starts as a luridly entertaining mystery becomes more layered as narrators and protagonists reveal themselves to be liars and manipulators, and anyone familiar with Gillian Flynn’s novel (she also penned the screenplay here) will appreciate David Fincher’s way of conveying all of this cinematically. Yes, as is almost always the case with adapted material, some context is lost in translation, but Fincher and Flynn add to the latter’s text by rooting everything in a place resembling the real world. It’s still wild, fantastical pulp, but Gone Girl the novel took place on another planet. By toning down all but a few exclamation point scenes, Fincher’s film is more sinister and haunting.

Ben Affleck is perfectly used as Nick. It’s not a particularly flashy performance, but neither is the role. Rosamund Pike, for all intents and purposes, gets the chance to play several different characters—all of which are done to near perfection. Like the film as a whole, she does a wonderful job of conveying all aspects of Amazing Amy while still grounding her very much in the real world—a task I thought impossible.

Among the supporting cast are a bunch of actors whose performances range from good (Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens) to great (Tyler Perry). However, one falls completely flat. Neil Patrick Harris never finds Desi Collings, which renders a few key scenes flatter than they ought to be.

But Fincher’s handle on his craft is as strong as ever. Gone Girl is the best-edited film so far this year (kudos Kirk Baxter, who’s won two Oscars for Fincher films and does career-best work here), and its shot by Jeff Cronenweth to perfection (suburbia has never felt so menancing). The score from usual Fincher composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is more subdued than their last few collaborations, but its startling punctuation marks are simply perfect.

The film does rely a lot on its plot machinations, but not so much that it’s void of anything thematically meaningful. Maybe it’s that marriage is hard work, as one character remarks. That’s certainly the case, but what stuck out to me more after the lights went up was a quote from another character: “You are the most fucked up people I’ve ever met.”

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