Missing Wife, Hard Life in Gone Girl
Review by Daniel Rester
Going to see Gone Girl, I had not read the novel by Gillian Flynn that it was based on. I knew the book had legions of fans and that it was about a woman going missing on her five-year anniversary, but that’s about it. From what I’ve heard so far, though, many fans of the book are pleased with the adaptation, which kinda makes sense since Flynn also wrote the screenplay and she got David Fincher to direct the picture. I’m actually glad that I didn’t read the book first, however, as the film contains many surprises for those who are unfamiliar with the source material – and from what I understand, a few interesting changes as well for those who are familiar.
Gone Girl is a pulpy mystery-thriller that deals with such things as the manipulation of media, the struggles of marriage during a recession, and the hardship of revealing the truth through all of the muck in legal situations. The film begins with Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck, perfectly cast), a failed writer who runs a small bar in Missouri with his sister Margo (Carrie Coon) and lives at home with his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike). When Amy — dubbed “Amazing Amy” for being the basis of her parents’ book series — goes missing one day, Nick is soon caught up in the situation and is the nailed as the prime suspect. I won’t go further with story details as I don’t want to enter spoiler territory.
A number of characters soon enter Nick’s life, including Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), a top-notch defense lawyer. Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris) and Tommy O’Hara (Scoot McNairy), two ex-boyfriends of Amy’s, also come into play. All of these characters battle with the strange situation of Amy going missing, with finger-pointing and blaming boiling up.
While Fincher was an excellent choice to direct material like this, my main disappointment lies within that as well. Because the man is such a master at handling style and blistering themes, I expected a bit more edge and visceral punch by the finish. Don’t get me wrong, this film has moments that are quite shocking (one in particular), but Fincher feels like he is on cruise control with this sort of material. All of that out of the way, Gone Girl is still a gripping and well-crafted film.
Fincher’s film juggles a lot in its 149-minute runtime, though the movie doesn’t get involving enough till about 45 minutes in and it feels overlong by its finish. Flynn’s writing brings forward a lot of ideas and characters that are intriguing; her dialogue is also pretty strong. A few plot points don’t quite add up, and her and Fincher’s handling of the media aspect doesn’t have much subtlety (with one character obviously modeled after Nancy Grace), but for the most part the writing is intelligent. The filmmakers manage to balance out multiple narration POVs, dish out unexpected twists, and give the material relevant and satirical juice. The film is also darkly hilarious at times, with Fincher a bit more playful here than usual.
The technical side of the film is brilliant, as expected. Fincher uses his signature yellow mustard and gray color palette in order to give everything an ominous feel. He and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth also use a number of detailed wide shots that are full of feeling and information. The editing by Kirk Baxter has a nice back-and-forth flow to it in handling the past and present; I must say I disliked the way the opening credits were handled though. The music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is a tad overbearing at times, but most of the time it perfectly complements the moods of the scenes.
The acting is great all around. Affleck gives an interesting, nuanced performance and keeps us guessing whether we should hate Nick or root for him. Pike is just as good as Amy, bringing a flavorful performance to a role that must have been difficult to balance out. The supporting players all have their moments as well, though Perry is the biggest surprise as Tanner Bolt; he gives a terrific performance in a role that is unlike anything we’re used to seeing from him. I also loved seeing McNairy pop up in a small but important part. My only casting complaint lies with Harris. NPH is a wonderful actor, and he does a well-enough job here, but he really feels out of place the majority of the time.
Gone Girl is a film I highly admire more than I actually like. The craftsmanship and the thought-provoking themes of the whole thing are hard to ignore, though small issues and me wanting a little more punch out of Fincher by the end kept me from loving it. Maybe a second viewing will erase such doubt, or maybe enhance it. I don’t know. I guess it’s a good sign that I already want to view the film again, though.
I would say this is a lesser film from the director, sitting next to such titles as The Game (1997) and Panic Room (2002). However, it’s saying something when your lesser titles are still strong films; his only terrible film is Alien 3 (1992), which he himself even hates. So while it’s not in the same league as masterpieces like Se7en (1995), Fight Club (1999), or The Social Network (2010), I still recommend for people to definitely see Gone Girl. It’s the kind of film that will leave you thinking about it and wanting to discuss it with your friends.
Score: 3 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: A-).
MPAA Rating: R (for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language).
Runtime: 2 hours and 29 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: October 3rd, 2014.