Mark Reviews Movies

Gone Girl


2 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, David Clennon, Lisa Banes, Lola Kirke, Boyd Holbrook, Missi Pyle, Casey Wilson, Emily Ratajkowski, Scoot McNairy, Sela Ward

MPAA Rating: R (for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language)

Running Time: 2:29

Release Date: 10/3/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 2, 2014

One thing is for sure: Gone Girl has a lot of nerve. It is a strange, ugly tale of a relationship that has disintegrated into abuse and possible murder. Out of one side of its mouth, the movie decries our culture's impulse to sensationalize such matters, and out of the other, it gives us exactly the kind of sensationalistic narrative the movie wants to condemn us for craving. It's a bit confused, to say the least.

The movie's pleasure is in its variety of excesses and include a twisting plot that rarely abates on shocking or game-changing revelations, dueling perspectives within a marriage that take us from one extreme to another, a bluntly satirical examination of the news media, and a scene of sexualized violence that sums up the movie's questionable gender politics (That's being generous about the issue). There's no middle ground in the world of Gillian Flynn's screenplay (based on her novel of the same name).

Every character is either a victim or a predator. Every statement is either a total lie or the complete truth. Every turn in the plot either changes everything we thought we knew or reinforces the severity of what we already know. Even the compromises the characters make have sinister repercussions. It's stirring on a gut level, but the constant barrage of extremes also grows tiring—even a little tiresome.

What keeps the movie's excesses in line is a production that admirably refuses to fully indulge in them. Director David Fincher, ever a meticulous craftsman, approaches the potboiler material with the utmost sincerity. As Flynn's screenplay keeps turning up the heat on a pot that is already boiling over, Fincher's real-world aesthetic (bolstered by Jeff Cronenweth's minimalist cinematography, which paints these environments in nebulous shadows) fights to keep things at a simmer.

The performances, too, are in a naturalistic key, suggesting that there is more to these characters than what's on screen. What we see are ever-moving pawns on an ever-changing board. The actors at least give us a sense that these pawns have some kind of history—a reason for being in play in the first place.

On the day of his 5th wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), after spending some time gossiping with his sister Margo (Carrie Coon) over his troubled marriage at the siblings' bar, returns home to discover the apparent scene of a crime. His wife is missing. Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and Officer Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) suspect foul play, and almost immediately, the local community and the nation come together to search for Nick's wife.

That's the gist of the plot, but there's a lot more that gradually unravels here. In the movie's cleverest conceit, a lot of information comes from the diary of Amy (Rosamund Pike, who is superb in providing layer after layer to be stripped away until only the unexpected, terrifying truth remains), the missing wife.

Nick tells us one side of their marriage—a troubled one, yes, but one that has its reasons for being in that state. Amy's parents (David Clennon and Lisa Banes) are the authors of a series of children's books (The reason their daughter's disappearance become national news), based on their expectations for and disappointments with their daughter (When Amy didn't make the volleyball team, "Amazing Amy" became a star athlete). The couple had financial problems but nothing that they couldn't handle. In her diary, Amy agrees with a lot of Nick says, but she also hints at a darker side to Nick that he doesn't show.

That's the foundation for the first of the movie's major questions: Did Nick murder Amy? In the movie's trickiest performance, Affleck gives us good reason to both believe and doubt his assertions of innocence. Nick can't quite hide his relief that Amy has gone missing, and the media firestorm that erupts as a result provides the movie's most pointed satire (Missi Pyle plays a news pundit whose look and manner is an unmistakable, spot-on takedown of a certain television personality). The court of public opinion has already made its decision (Tyler Perry excels as a defense attorney who believes he can counteract this trend), and based on how the police react, the whole thing raises pertinent concerns about how the media responds to and inflames public sentiment.

The real distressing angle here, though, is when we learn Amy's fate. The screenplay goes even further in its dual perspectives and takes us back in time to follow Amy. What we learn essentially turns all of the movie's female characters into conniving manipulators, incompetent fools (Even the detail-attentive Boney misses a crucial piece of information), or just a source of support for their male counterparts. The majority of the male characters are misunderstood or manipulated innocents. It's a disturbingly regressive outlook that becomes more troublesome with each new revelation.

Does it really matter? Given how both Flynn and Fincher seem in agreement that this zigzagging concoction goes beyond its lurid roots to become representative of bigger issues (the marital contract, the battle between the sexes, the responsibility of the media, etc.), it's worth considering what the movie has to say about those things. What Gone Girl has to say is at best irresponsible and a distraction from what is otherwise a finely manufactured thriller.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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