Gone Girl is basically two movies in one; a serious, realistic missing persons boiler followed by a laughably over-the-top second half that comes dangerously close to unraveling the whole works. The film does not depend upon the audience buying wholesale into the numerous twists, but rather the shifting character motivations and completely nonsensical developments of the third act that accompany the twists. It’s a shame, as Gone Girl contains impressive lead performances and is never, ever boring.
Nick (Affleck) and Amy (Pike) are stuck in a crumbling marriage. They both checked out years ago, but still go about their daily lives without knowing much about what either is doing. One day Nick receives a phone call from a neighbor saying his front door is open. Nick arrives home to shattered furniture and traces of blood in the kitchen, and there’s no sign of Amy. He gets the police involved, who, as circumstantial evidence mounts, tighten the screws on their theory that he’s behind Amy disappearance. The growing media circus surrounding the case does not help.
To safely discuss Gone Girl is really to only discuss its first act. The screenplay, by Gillian Flynn (adapting from her popular 2012 novel), takes multiple, abrupt twists and turns. The opening act is realistic and taut, building the tension of Amy’s exodus while flashing back to the couple’s steamy courtship and ensuing erosion. The first big twist, while creatively pulled off, shifts the landscape to a fantasy world that Flynn has no interest in leaving for the film’s latter half. Realism is out the window and each subsequent revelation requires every character to lose IQ points in the process. It’s infuriating. Other story elements grow stale, particularly a Nancy Grace-esque news anchor bent on exploiting Nick’s every move. Though the book is a few years old, this brand of satire has been done to death of late.
Considering the impressive directorial canon of David Fincher, Gone Girl has to rank in the bottom third. Though competently shot, Fincher never builds the suspense that the story, particularly the first hour, deserves. It’s much more procedural, with the color palette dark as ever and the pacing deliberate. The cast, led by Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, is superb. Affleck can play indifferent with the best of them, and he does so effectively here. But it’s Pike, completely immersing herself in the role, that really shines. She shows incredible range as the defeated Amy and could be in awards contention come 2015. Tyler Perry and Carrie Coon are excellent in supporting roles, while Neil Patrick Harris is miscast as an old flame of Amy’s.
Gone Girl is a very strange case study. It’s enveloping and hypnotic, even while toeing the line of coming apart at the seams. It’s undoubtedly a glossed-up version of a potboiler novel, but cannot be quite as easily dismissed thanks to Pike’s performance and an engrossing set-up. It’s just unfortunate that it falls prey to gradually making each character a little bit dumber to progress the narrative.
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Length: 149 Minutes
Rating: R for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language.
Theatrical Release: October 3, 2014
Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: Gillian Flynn. Based upon the novel of the same name by Flynn.
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon