THE STORY – In Carthage, Mo., former New York-based writer Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and his glamorous wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) present a portrait of a blissful marriage to the public. However, when Amy goes missing on the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary, Nick becomes the prime suspect in her disappearance. The resulting police pressure and media frenzy cause the Dunnes’ image of a happy union to crumble, leading to tantalizing questions about who Nick and Amy truly are.
THE CAST – Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens & Patrick Fugit
THE TEAM – David Fincher (Director) & Gillian Flynn (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 149 Minutes
By Josh Parham
It’s quite fascinating to witness how the legacy of a particular film has grown over time. Perspectives in the culture change dramatically, and it’s often interesting to see how a piece of art has aged and whether or not it still holds relevance. Those conversations were already present when “Gone Girl” was first released. In the years that followed, it seems as if its place within the cultural conversation has only resonated even stronger. Taken all together, it’s not a flawless picture, but with great filmmaking, an intriguing script, and an excellent ensemble, the film is not only wildly entertaining but a fascinating commentary on the media’s obsession with true crime as well as the complicated gender dynamics between men and women.
The story begins on one fateful summer day when Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home to find evidence that his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) has gone missing and possibly kidnapped. He calls the police and willingly participates in the investigation and the search parties. However, the early suspicion thrown on him is never shaken, and as his sloppy personality and moral failings become public, the harsh eyes on him only intensify. It doesn’t take long for more people to become convinced that he’s involved in his wife’s disappearance. And yet, there’s more to this case than meets the eye. Amy has played a major role in its manufacturing, a way to make a bold statement about her feelings toward her husband.
David Fincher is a well-respected filmmaker for good reasons, many of which are on display here. The meticulous and precise nature of his direction works well with establishing mystery, and it creates a sense of tension that’s also immensely satisfying to watch unfold. As more revelations come up, the focus centers more on the characters, and these intimate moments are just as well executed. Employing crisp cinematography, atmospheric sound design, and an incredibly effective score, Fincher manages to utilize many of these crafts to create an engaging premise that sells an intriguing thematic insight. The only one of his tools that comes up a bit short is the editing, which is mostly very good but occasionally falls into more awkward missteps that disrupt the rhythm of multiple scenes.
In adapting her own novel, Gillian Flynn dives deep into a world that comments on the state of media and its obsession with true crime stories, as well as discussing the complicated and toxic gender dynamics men and women play against. All of this is an impressive portrayal, even though sometimes its observations can come across as obvious and shallow. Still, there’s a sharp focus on how the news aggressively drives the narratives around stories about missing women and the imperfect picture they showcase to the world. Just as interesting is the struggle between men’s impulses to court all forms of toxic masculinity and the complicated feminist perspective that navigates through it. At times, these themes get lost in the less nuanced aspects of pulpy thriller contrivances, but Flynn still manages to discuss these themes in a way that makes them provocative and helps to lift this story as something far more layered.
Rarely has a film ever employed the casting of Ben Affleck with such knowledge that his off-screen persona would undoubtedly play into an audience’s perception of a character. Regardless of that notion, this is one of the strongest on-screen efforts from Affleck to date. He captures the easygoing smugness of a charming yet oblivious man that makes it so easy for the public to resent. He also shows the complexity of such a character and brings a level of humanity that makes the tenderness, intelligence, and cruelty feel quite pointed. It should certainly be noted that this is one of the finest performances in Affleck’s career, if not his best overall.
However, as good as Affleck is, the real showcase amongst the cast is Pike. There isn’t a moment when her portrayal of this character isn’t incredibly alluring. There’s an obvious demarcation in the way this film sees Amy, and the different keys that Pike plays in revealing a subtle and nuanced performance is exhilarating to watch. When it’s necessary to see the vulnerable side, there’s an authenticity that makes her anxiety and frustrations seem genuine. When a darker truth comes later, she expertly showcases the cold calculation and psychotic lengths Amy will go to survive. All of these facets feel rooted in a complicated role, and Pike does an exceptional job of making her a fascinating character that’s equally chilling as inviting.
While Affleck and Pike headline the film, they are nowhere near the only standouts. Carrie Coon’s portrayal of Nick’s twin sister always has a commanding screen presence and her performance is incredibly engaging. Kim Dickens is a true scene-stealer as the lead detective, and every moment of hers is richly entertaining and so compelling in the way she commands the scene with captivating precision. Even Tyler Perry, as Nick’s lawyer, is wickedly delightful and a joy to watch. The only one who isn’t quite as effective is Neil Patrick Harris as an old lover of Amy’s who gets caught up in her scheme. While he’s fine in the role overall, his performance does feel a bit stilted and dull. It doesn’t actively harm the film, but with everyone else delivering such great work, his only adequate portrayal comes up short.
When combining the masterful skill of Fincher’s directing, a capable ensemble that’s mostly engaging in every frame, a provocative screenplay with rich thematic commentary, and a plethora of well-crafted filmmaking tools on display, “Gone Girl” offers a lot to be enjoyed. Apart from it being quite entertaining to watch, one still manages to find it stimulating in the way it reveals truths about the real world that surrounds it. In particular, how it relates to the depiction of violent crime to the public and complicated romantic entanglements that fester with time. All of this works so well despite sparring performances not landing or some of the craft elements not being as strong as others. In the end, the film still earns a place to be named as one of the most interesting films of the last few years and is well worth revisiting as we move further away from its debut.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – David Fincher masterfully directs an intriguing story with a fascinating commentary about the media and toxic relationships. The screenplay is used to explore these ideas effectively. The whole cast is filled with excellent performances. Most of the crafts are well designed and executed.
THE BAD – The observations sometimes become shallow and obvious. A few performances aren’t as engaging as others. The editing sometimes feels awkward and disrupts the rhythm.