Movie Review: Gone Girl

I need to take one second to talk about how hilariously schizophrenic the trailers were – at least, they were in my theater. Our trailers consisted of about three war movies, the Stephen Hawking movie with Eddie Redmayne, Into the Woods (which was the only one that even KIND of matched the tone of the movie that followed it), one Nicholas Sparks movie, and the Fifty Shades teaser, because people running trailers for Gone Girl couldn’t figure out what the fuck genre this movie was and just kind of threw these together and hoped for the best.

Anyway. Onto that review. I have to say, that tidbit was an excellent way of avoiding spoilers before the cut. And SPEAKING of spoilers, for the love of God, do not read the rest of this if you have not seen the movie or read the book.

Gone Girl is David Fincher’s newest green-toned, brooding epic, and it feels like ZodiacSe7en and The Social Network had a three-way which resulted in a demented, horrifying baby. Of course, he had the story all set up in advance – Gillian Flynn’s novel was an instant bestseller just screaming to be made into a huge movie, and with Flynn helming the screenplay, Fincher was free to dive in.

What worked?

A lot. A lot worked here. Fincher was exactly the right director for this project, and Flynn adapting her own book gave her the chance to trim a little fat but keep the story as close to the book as possible – and having read the book more than once, I can agree with the critics at large that this is movie is very close to perfect in terms of adaptation. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have provided their second excellent Fincher score, with domestic dystopian tracks that perfectly echo the film’s inherent tension and darkness.

The film was, as Fincher films so often are, impeccably cast; Neil Patrick Harris, Casey Wilson and Tyler Perry all shifted easily into wholly dramatic roles, and I believe all three pulled this transition off impeccably. Wilson, despite a small part, shone as Amy and Nick’s panicky, pregnant neighbor. Perry was born to play a slimy, high-profile attorney, and walked away with the line that one could call the film’s thesis statement (something to the effect of, “You two [Nick and Amy] are absolutely fucked up and deserve each other”). Harris was the most pleasant surprise – he got the prize role of Desi Collings, perhaps the most sinister character in a film full of sociopaths, who protects slash isolates Amy until he meets a bloody end. Carrie Coon, most recently seen on The Leftovers, is wonderfully dry and often endearing as Nick’s twin sister, Margot. Missi Pyle is a delight, but Missi Pyle is always a delight.

But really, let’s talk about Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. Affleck hasn’t been this good in YEARS. He’s a withholding actor, and it works here – readers got a lot of insight into what made Nick Dunne tick, but Affleck keeps things (mostly) wrapped up neatly behind a blank mask that belies both everything and nothing. Don’t worry, I will talk specifics – in the third act of the third act, when he finds out that Amy got herself pregnant (with his sperm sample, no less) to trap him for the next eighteen years and he slams her head into the wall, his veneer finally cracks, especially since he’s now committing the violence against his wife that he’s been falsely accused of this whole time. I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m condoning domestic violence here, because I would never and am obviously not, but it’s a powerful and scary moment for Nick’s character; the moment where he becomes the man everyone thinks he is. He’s a perfect choice for Nick Dunne. He’s so good looking he seems constantly smug, and it just works so well.

Rosamund Pike is: a whirlwind; dynamite; terrifying; a complete revelation. She wasn’t particularly well known before this film, despite working steadily for a decade or so, but if there’s any justice in Hollywood (and sometimes there isn’t), she’ll be a household name now. I’m also hoping she’ll be considered for a nod by the time Oscar nominations roll around. Amy Elliott Dunne is, undeniably, the part of a lifetime – the first part of the story takes great pains to set her up as the perfect wife through her diary entries, but that all falls apart so quickly when you find out who she really is. Amy is conniving and horrific, a sociopath through and through. Her infamous “Cool Girl” speech is replicated directly from the book in a voiceover as you discover the real Amy, Pike’s voice purring over Amy pouring her own blood over the kitchen floor and tricking her hapless neighbor so she can steal her pee (for a positive pregnancy test, of course). Her time with Desi is somehow scarier than absolutely anything she does to Nick – after a month or so with him, after slowly becoming the thin, subservient woman he’s always wanted, she seduces him for about thirty seconds before slicing his throat with a boxcutter and then casually abandoning his body even as she’s soaked in his blood. Pike is just so unbelievably good – she excels at playing Post-Reveal Amy, who is at once dynamic, fascinating and scarily evil.

What didn’t work?

Very few things. This was, overall, a tightly structured and strong film. That being said, some things that worked spectacularly in the book just didn’t translate as well, and unfortunately, a lot of that had to do with Amy’s “Cool Girl” diary entries.

I’m definitely not alone in this. Quite a few articles have commented on this situation, and probably more eloquently than I will, but here goes anyway. They couldn’t have possibly included every single diary entry, but they left out so many where Amy truly is the girl from her speech, which is something that the reader absolutely gets from Flynn’s novel. Bits about her friends’ “dancing monkeys” are gone, and we are left with Pike’s (only slightly) less effective portrayal of Diary Amy, who comes off as lofty and chilly, despite being the perfect wife.

Part of this problem is also simply that the movie does focus more on Nick’s perspective, but I can see why the narrative follows this path – you do need to see slightly more of Nick and slightly less of Amy, at least in the film, for the twist to be as effective as possible. I did yearn for Pike to be a little cooler, though. It would have brought her already outstanding performance to a new level.

Why this movie now?

Well, part of this answer is obvious. The novel was a huge hit, and producers wanted it to be a movie as soon as possible because they knew it would make money (which it did).

But there’s more to this, because Gone Girl brings to mind so many narratives in its two and a half hour run. First, of course, is the media circus that follows every beautiful, white woman who disappears, and the desperate need that the public feels to find a reason and a suspect immediately. But that’s only the first half of the movie! I made a lot of jokes, immediately after seeing it, that “the gay wedding agenda had a hand in this” because it paints maybe the worst picture of heterosexual marriage I’ve ever seen. (I make dad jokes sometimes.) The movie did, however, serve as a chilling indictment of not just love and marriage, but of humanity as a whole; sometimes, people aren’t who you think they are, and they’re downright evil. But sometimes, even if the person you’ve chosen to commit to becomes a stranger to you, you have to stay with them anyway – the symbiosis has become too strong, or maybe you just deserve each other.

The themes of this film are always timely, but on a practical level, it also revived Affleck’s career and kickstarted Pike’s. Affleck desperately needed a commercial hit on the heels of a bunch of flops (obviously excepting Argo), especially since his debut as Batman will be out before too long. Pike, on the other hand, just deserved her due – and with any luck, will get it in spades from anyone in charge of nominating people for award type things.

Gone Girl is a deeply disturbing and profoundly fascinating film that not only challenges you, but gets under your skin – I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. In that way, Post-Reveal Amy embodies the story as a whole – you’re not likely to forget either any time soon.

(We tried out a slightly new format for this review. If anyone is reading this, please let us know what you think!)


One thought on “Movie Review: Gone Girl

  1. Pingback: (Pop) Culturally Informed | 2014 Roundup: Film, Or, The Films The Year Forgot

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