20 November, 2014

Review: "Gone Girl" (****½)

Editor's Note: It is a pleasure to introduce you to the newest part of the Reel Georgia team, Ali Coad. I met Ali in early 2014, when we both began working for the Atlanta Film Festival. Ali holds a degree in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Georgia, so you'll have to pardon my writing once you read hers. But however eloquent she may be—and she is very eloquent—everything Ali writes exudes a crystalline sincerity, as if your best friend is writing to you personally. I know y'all will enjoy all that Ali has to offer and I look forward to reading every word. -CM

Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in "Gone Girl" 

I had read Gillian Flynn’s novel “Gone Girl” prior to seeing director David Fincher’s captivating adaptation, and in my humble opinion, this film lives up to all the volcanic hype and energy that presupposed it’s release. I liked the movie just as much as, it seems, most people did. I saw this film with a friend of mine who was in the enviable, nearly-impossible position of knowing nothing about this movie; I don’t really know how that happened, but it did. She knew who Ben Affleck was and, really, that’s about it. And when the twists and turns came, as we all knew they would, I’d catch small glimpses of her reactions and there was this beautiful, thrilling purity to it. Despite knowing what was going to happen, I still loved the intricate flimflam, but the electric magic of the big reveal was lost on me simply because I saw it coming. I still enjoyed it, but it didn’t pack the same punch for me as it did for my friend.

“Gone Girl” is the story of Amy and Nick Dunne. How from the outside looking in, they have a loving, perfect marriage. Fincher reinforces this idea by filming them through long hallways, through windows, in closed-off spaces; he really highlights the claustrophobia that can, sometimes though not always, accompany a partnership, even a loving one. It’s fair to say, like any other couple, that Amy and Nick struggle: Nick looses a job, his mom gets sick, Amy has parental pressures and obligations, they move, they argue over children. But at the end of the day, they love each other. Or so it seems.

The film begins with Amy’s disappearance and quickly (or in it’s 149-minute runtime, arguably not-so-quickly) evolves from a who-done-it to this suspense thriller. Which, to me, is fantastically whimsical. Most movies end once we discover who did it, but not “Gone Girl.” That discovery lies in the middle and then the latter half of the movie confronts, head on and with a titanic weight, the aftermath of that discovery. And this unconventional storytelling should be entirely attributed to Flynn’s writing. The only way this movie could be as strong a story as it is, is with equally strong source material; plus, Flynn, as a first time screenwriter, did an unconventionally superb job. The script is tight and quick and calculating and stays true to the novel despite struggle in any novel to film crossover.

Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck are mesmerizing as a couple. I hardly wanted to blink, fearful to miss a moment, even half of a moment. Though I tend to enjoy Affleck more behind the camera than in front of it, it seems he was made for Nick Dunne, a good-natured, affable, trustworthy man. He plays this character again and again, which is part of his appeal in “Gone Girl;” we trust him as this doting husband, golden-boyed man if only because he’s extremely recognizable as such. And Rosamund Pike as Amy, well, she may very well be my favorite part of this film. She’s sharp and carries this low, dangerous coaxing quality, tempting us constantly with her beautiful-but-damned ingenuity. She’s wildly Hitchcockian and gracefully maintains her very cool, very sharp, very blonde composition. She stole the show; it’s a shame no one else really had a chance.

Rosamund Pike as the mesmerizing Amy Dunne
Leading players aside, “Gone Girl” is peppered with delicious periphery characters. Kerry Coon plays Nick’s levelheaded, hot-tempered twin sister, Margo; Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s eerie, spine-chilled ex-boyfriend, Desi. Even Tyler Perry who plays Tanner, the sharp, sleazy lawyer that only defends the bad guys was charming. Perry, I think, was a necessity for “Gone Girl.” It’s an overwhelmingly caustic and claustrophobic movie, and Perry’s easy movements, casual tone, and light humor help to puncture and deflate this intensity.

What I did find to be shocking is that “Gone Girl” has sparked many, many essays and think pieces and blog posts full of fire and vigor and broad, sweeping statements on contemporary American life, on marriage, and on gender. And that’s not to say I don’t think films should inspire further dialogue or that we shouldn’t have conversations about contemporary American life, marriage, gender, and sex, because I absolutely think we should. I think all good art should inspire conversation, and this film certainly qualifies as good art. What I don’t understand is the contrived and overwrought nature of these film reviews and essays; this film isn’t making a statement about marriage or trust or misogyny. Right? It’s possible I’m missing the boat on this, but I don’t think this movie is making a comment on anything. It’s extremely specific. The characters are behaving the way they behave because their behavior is specific to them. Their actions are specifc to themselves. Not all people act this way; Nick and Amy Dunne act this way.

The ending I found to be especially delightful. Typically, at the end of a particularly tense film there’s this sort of collective exhalation. Like phew, that’s over. But with “Gone Girl” it was the very opposite. It’s like the whole film you’re holding your breath, your chest is tight, and your knuckles are white and bloodless from gripping the arm rests a little too tightly. Everything about you is tense and oppressed. And you're just waiting and waiting to finally let go, and when we get to the end, there’s absolutely no relief. Instead, when the screen turned black, instead of that very familiar exhalation, I hear this small but still very sharp inhalation. Like a breath caught at the back of the throat. Fantastic.

I’d give “Gone Girl” 4.5 out of 5. Go see this movie. See it in the theatre. Fincher’s craftiness is very deserving of a big screen.


  1. As Fincher and Flynn peel away layers of their story, a feeling of dread grows; it's like pulling moldy leaves from an artichoke that is rotting from the inside out.

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  2. Only David Fincher could tell the story of a missing woman, a murder mystery and a psychosexual thriller without making it feel forced.