Gone Girl (2014)
Dir: David Fincher
Gone Girl combines many recurring themes in David Fincher’s work: it’s a process-oriented thriller (Zodiac, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), featuring possibly unreliable narration (Fight Club), with overtones of classism and how technology seeps into our lives (The Social Network), all scored to the now familiar strains of Trent Reznor’s atonal bleeps and painted with Fincher’s signature cool palette. It’s also an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel of the same name (joining fellow story-to-screen Fincher adaptations Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Dragon Tattoo) that holds many surprises for those unfamiliar with the source and even some for those that are. Most of all, Gone Girl is a sly commentary on the state of modern relationships and how we live now that finds Fincher in tight control of a gripping yarn.
The movie opens with Ben Affleck’s Nick Dunne heading out for a coffee the morning of his 5th wedding anniversary. We know something’s amiss as he orders whiskey for breakfast and commiserates over his failing marriage with the bartender, Margot (Carrie Coon). Upon returning to his idyllic suburban home, Nick finds that his wife Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) has gone missing and there are signs of a break-in at his Missouri McMansion. The cops are called and the investigation gets underway as the game is now afoot.
From the start, it’s unclear what role, if any, Nick may have had in the disappearance of his wife. Affleck’s natural charm and history in the public eye are well used here as his character is a corn-fed country boy raised by his momma to be polite, with some curdled impulses lurking beneath the surface. His square-jawed looks suggest the homecoming king grown up and gone to seed, and a central plot point even revolves around his cleft chin. Nick treats the disappearance of his wife almost nonchalantly and dutifully smiles for the cameras at press conferences (much like Affleck does at premieres), but here Nick’s actions turn the public and investigators against him as suspicion grows. It’s a canny bit of casting and a plum role for Affleck, whose career has slowly been on the mend for the past few years.
Affleck is matched by Rosamund Pike, a British actress cast here in her biggest role yet. Pike is most likely best remembered as a Bond-girl in the woeful Brosnan entry Die Another Day. Her ice queen persona from that film informs Amy Dunne, a woman of high standards and an only child of intellectual New York writers. Amy’s introduced in flashbacks prior to her disappearance, narrated by her own diary entries as the backstory of Nick and Amy’s romance is filled in. A meet cute at a New York party is followed by a first kiss amongst swirling sugar outside a bakery in the wee hours of the morning. It’s remarkably romantic and offers a stark contrast to the present-day minutia of the investigation. Pike does wonders with the role, suggesting a deep inner life of the character and providing context and hints as to what may have happened to her. This is a breakout performance where a lot is asked of her – expect to see a lot more of Pike in the future.
Gillian Flynn was a writer for EW before being laid off and subsequently writing Gone Girl, and those autobiographical experiences make their way into the movie as we see in flashback that Nick and Amy were both laid off from their jobs as writers in the wake of the recession. Forced to sell their New York apartment and move to Missouri to take care of Nick’s ailing mother, they find themselves in trying circumstances that test the strength of their marriage. While the procedural element of the film is well done and hearkens back to Fincher’s past work (like Zodiac), the central thrust of the film is in fact Nick and Amy’s relationship. It’s told from various points of view and examined and dissected (by townspeople, the media, the police, and everyone else as Amy’s disappearance becomes national news) to the point that the chatter becomes deafening and it’s difficult to know which character to trust. If this sounds mundane or boring, it’s not. The pulpy story is full of twists and turns and is in fact legitimately funny. The subject matter is far too lurid for this to be a romantic comedy, but it’s generally riveting (if a bit overlong near the end). Of Fincher’s past films, it’s closest in tone to Fight Club for a variety of reasons best left for the viewer to discover.
Gone Girl goes to many unexpected places and I suspect it may divide audiences quite a bit. Some will likely say that the final third of the movie loses some of the urgent momentum so prevalent in the early scenes, which is somewhat true, but by that point the movie has morphed into a wholly different narrative. It’s deftly tackling the media portrayal of tragedy, how public perception is used to build lawsuits, complex gender politics and how they’re shifting, and how two people change and evolve in a relationship that spans from euphoric to toxic and everywhere in between. Gone Girl’s worldview is caustic but knowing, and the implications contained within are a lot to digest. When that final smash cut to black happens you barely have a chance to catch your breath. Go see it now as there will certainly be many conversations that pop up in the wake of Gone Girl’s meticulously crafted provocations.