2014’s Fall Film Season Is Here!
A Film Review of Gone Girl
David Fincher’s latest thriller starring Batfleck (aka Ben Affleck) and Rosamund Pike is the first exceptional film for the fall season which sets an appropriately devilish tone as we approach Halloween for a story layered with thought provoking plot, twists, surprises, shock, awe and an unscrupulous need to take a shower after watching. Although the gist of this story revolves around a nightmare scenario for relative newlyweds, the fact is its paranoia thrusts its greasy palms into society’s chest cavity considering the commentary being made concerning the national media’s coverage of various kidnappings across the USA. Thank goodness we have a 24 hour news cycle to keep every living room with a flat screen hard wired to some of the most gruesome and perplexing tragedies that only the most singular slices of Americana can bring home as family entertainment.
Despite being a dialogue driven drama, there is plenty of meat to this hearty meal; namely the smart character dynamics, an escalating tone of suspense and cliché obliterating plot twists and resolutions. The viewer may be reintroduced to some common troupes of the “disappeared, who-dun-it, he said/she said” in the first 30 to 40 minutes, but the rest of the film sets the audience up with familiarity specifically to yank the rug out from under us. The audience is constantly on edge and being thrown for a loop as nothing plays out as it traditionally would. Although I designate this as a plus, some may find the twists a tad far-fetched, but either way, this movie will unsettle and may even send some viewers home needing to be cuddled in the fetal position by someone they truly love and trust (or do they? Muah, ha, ha!).
Before I continue singing the praises of the cast and crew of this film, it must be noted that the primary strength of this film is its screen story and script which happened to be written by the author of the original novel for which this film was adapted: Gillian Flynn. Obviously, it’s a major convenience to have the originator of a certain piece of fiction being as involved with an adaptation as possible, but despite all of the intangible benefits of this kind of cooperation, it is an uncommon practice for studios which may or may not have something to do with a bunch of board room tools knowing more about a story than the person that actually wrote it. Gillian crafts a suspenseful drama that translates very well to the screen with a story that is conscious of murder mysteries and unexplained disappearances that have been popularized in various forms of fiction as well as documented in a variety of news coverage. The cast of characters are all presented in stereotypical fashion for what seems like a garden variety mystery, but the story couldn’t play out any further from that. What makes all of the twists much more impactful is the wrench time put into setting up opposite presumptions; you know the ones that allow the audience to figure it all out before the halfway mark in the film. These instances lull the audience into thinking the obvious culprits will be found out for committing the same blundering mistakes they have for every crime drama ever conceived. With circumstances and character status in constant flux, the audience will find that they love to hate and hate to love every single character by the time the end credits roll. Of course, this is only made possible thanks to characters that reveal much more depth as individuals as every minute passes. In a genre for an industry that is so desperately fused to “the formula,” it is refreshing to experience a story that’s much more interested in breaking rules than obeying them.
Viewers beware: a severe lack of action is this film’s primary weakness. We may all know David Fincher for Fight Club, Se7en and The Game, but rest assured this film has even less action than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This may instantly turn off the male demographic, but to that I say “Hey! Summer is over. It’s time to get your psychological freak on!” What helps this film even less is the overall vanilla setting of suburban Missouri. Sure, scenes are almost always changing, but their combined lack of visual flair (save for one or two) makes them all blend together. Visual and special effects are also virtually nil, but there is one scene towards the film’s climax where a special effect salvo gets dumped all over the audience that pays off quite well considering its shocking timing. Long story short: Gone Girl isn’t about eye candy; it’s about mind jobs and emotional spasms.
With this kind of film, one must have his or her cast firing on all cylinders and I can confirm this is certainly the case despite my never having been a particular fan of one Mr. Ben Affleck. I’ll admit to somewhat nefarious motivations for seeing this film in that the trailers seemed to setup Affleck as either the antagonist or at the very least the subject of ridicule and rejection. Yes, the thought of that genuinely amused me because he hasn’t exactly been called upon to play the part of the punching bag in any of his films. However, Affleck meets this particular challenge with the casual, matter of fact confidence of a truly innocent man or the actual mastermind behind it all. Sure, he plays Nick Dunne, a prodigal son of Missouri who apparently has no ability to rediscover an accent that he may not ever have had, but his character’s “likeability” is a lynchpin to both the plot and the moment to moment experience for the audience. The fact that Affleck delivers nuanced performances that shrieks both guilt and innocence throughout the film completely bolsters the mystery and uncertainty. I found the chemistry he shares with onscreen sister Margo Dunne (Carrie Coon) to be a series of welcome breaks to the ever building intensity which does much to generate sympathy for the Dunne’s while generating specific instances of further incrimination as the film progresses. Affleck’s Everyman performance is superior to his previous contributions thanks to conscious decisions to play scenes in different (yet subtle) ways to keep the audience guessing.
Rosamund Pike may have been circulating in the Hollywood pipeline for a while, but she has finally found a signature role for which she is completely deserving of every bit of praise as well as a potential Oscar nomination for her performance as Amy Dunne, the titular “Gone” girl. As with Affleck, conscious choices are being made in tandem between Rosamund and director David Fincher to present a full spectrum character from inspired enchantress to loving wife to chilling ice princess (and everything in between). Ms. Pike’s ability to shift gears at will is masterful, and the fact that she retains such consistent demeanor in virtually every scene is absolutely confounding to the audience because it makes her character impossible to read. She commands the audience’s attention both in her active scenes as well as her voice over narration of the events as various journal entries are read to the audience to provide instantaneous back story and exposition which fills in the details as circumstances develop. There is a moment near the middle of the film where Amy’s perspective wrestles control from husband Nick where a thick veil of mystery is removed and almost changes the end game of the film into something much more predictable. Luckily, Rosamund’s performance continues to hold enough back to retain the right level of intrigue with the audience to keep us all guessing even at that point as to who did what, who is guilty, what just happened and how it could all possibly end.
The supporting cast is equally deserving of the praise I’ve already given its two leads. Right off the bat, I’ve got to say that Tyler Perry’s performance as attorney Tanner Bolt is easily the best I’ve seen of him as an actor for presenting a character that is as dynamic as he is entertaining and charismatic. Carrie Coon’s Margo Dunne is the most sympathetic character in this film as she masterfully sells the victim of circumstance thanks to her proximity to the key players. Let’s just say her performance demonstrates a text book example of how to deliver “frustration” in film. Kim Dickens approaches Detective Rhonda Boney with an even balance of rational investigator, small town yokel and sincere do-gooder. Her performance reflects enough authority and confidence during the investigation of a crime without becoming overbearing and annoying. Neil Patrick Harris’ contribution as Desi Collings presents a supremely effective (and creepy) wild card to the entire drama who’s sheer presence evokes a level of discomfort that is vital to the plot’s mystery and always raises suspicion with the audience.
Gone Girl is not your average thriller because it is a story designed to take you to familiar places from a plot perspective, but it leaves the audience in the abandoned alley ways of the unexpected, unnerving and downright repulsive. This overall strategy makes a relatively simple plot much more captivating. Labeling this film as a cautionary tale to married couples does the story a bit of a disservice because it could be applied to the relationship between any two individuals as a psychological experiment in what anyone could rationalize if pushed to their emotional breaking point. The two and a half hour runtime gives the audience an added window to equally disturbing and mind bending circumstances that would have been otherwise completely dropped and left to the audience’s imagination once the central plot resolved and the reason for this is that it doesn’t really resolve. There’s enough of an open ending to allow for a multitude of “what if’s,” but make no mistake, a hopeful storybook is a possibility removed from the negotiating table. This film is an exceptional mystery that is disturbing, graphic and above all, incredibly uncomfortable. If the viewer is up for that kind of emotional gut check, I couldn’t recommend a better film. You’ll never have a better time being made to feel so bad.