Film Review: Gone Girl

Unlikeable people are up to no good in David Fincher's entertaining adaptation of a cynical Gillian Flynn novel.

David Fincher has managed a difficult task with his adaptation of the bestselling Gone Girl: He has made a two-and-a-half-hour feature film about the lives and vices of an unappealing cast of characters engrossing. It is tough to maintain an emotional foothold in Gone Girl, as the very same plot reversals and shifts in character motive that make the movie as entertaining as it is (and for those who enjoy trying to stay one step ahead of the writer, or who cop to a taste for melodrama, Girl is a thrill) incrementally distance the viewer from the lives on display. But after the first “gasp!” of a reveal, the turns through an increasingly dark wood appear frequently, often sharply, to quite fun effect. Unfortunately, and more to the point than the film’s presentation of unseemly personalities, Gone Girl elevates narrative propulsion over character insight; however (some viewers might simply say “and”), it offers a whipping ride.

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) is an unhappily married man spending the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary playing a board game and drinking bourbon with his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon) at the bar the siblings own. Wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is nowhere in sight, but it is only after Nick returns home to a coffee table shattered and overturned on his living room floor that her absence strikes him as cause for concern. He alerts the local authorities, who find further evidence of a struggle, blood on the kitchen cupboards among the more sinister. Nick is brought to the police station for questioning and is chastised by his interlocutors/interrogators for having neglected to alert Amy’s parents to her disappearance earlier. A press conference is arranged for the following day. Nick, who, as Margo helpfully explains, tends to either engage in a disingenuous-seeming charm offensive or turn scary angry when he is upset, acts both disingenuously charming and scary angry over the following crucial days. With public opinion against him and no Amy (or body) in sight, a desperate Nick hires a lawyer (Tyler Perry) whose specialty is unwinnable cases of the homicidal-husband variety. Yet, despite his new counsel’s evident competence, Nick, who enjoyed a complicated relationship with his missing spouse, is increasingly in a bad way.

To summarize further would be to commit that most grievous of film-reviewing sins: unnecessarily spoil the story. Suffice it to say a major plot point is revealed, after which turn the movie’s narrative ground continually shifts and quakes, never again to equilibrate.

Fincher’s hand is as assured as ever, and he admirably sustains a sense of anxiety over that lengthy 149-minute runtime. Credit for this Fincher-ian “mood” must also be given to the director’s frequent collaborators: to cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, who supplies those characteristically dour colors, and especially to Atticus Ross and Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, whose musical compositions, seductive and unnerving, are arguably the finest elements of the film.

Pike, erstwhile “most beautiful woman in Britain” that is Pride & Prejudice’s Jane Bennet, is well cast as the driving mechanism behind the seamy proceedings. Affleck, no stranger to the vicissitudes of media favor, is likewise well suited to Flynn’s (who also wrote the screenplay) Nick Dunne, a man who, the harder he tries, the more one and all dislike him.

This notion of character “likeability” is the point on which some viewers may pull up short. Not every film ought to have a moral compass about which events, too often predictably, turn. Moral didacticism is uninteresting, and as un-incisive as a revel in the baser tendencies of human nature. But while the Gone Girl audience is left breathlessly guessing what might happen once the next narrative shoe drops, and the one after that, and the one after that, after a certain point guessing its players’ thoughts becomes far less interesting, and less fun. A touch more ambiguity, a look of doubt, a contradictory act, could have enriched the film, turned it perhaps into something more than the sum of its rollicking plot points. But as a thriller, Gone Girl does rollick.

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