Directed by: David Fincher
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, David Clennon, Emily Ratajkowski
An adaptation of the bestselling Gillian Flynn potboiler, David Fincher's Gone Girl features a major plot twist at the conclusion of its first act. It's not just any old twist; this one shapes both the film's narrative and its underlying themes. This means I'm somewhat hamstrung in how far I can explore the movie without spoiling its plot, which I won't be doing, should you be concerned about reading any further. I surmise this is how critics felt about reviewing Psycho on its original release back in 1960.
Nick (Affleck) returns home one afternoon to a scene of disruption in his small town Missouri home, with his wife Amy (Pike) nowhere to be seen. Local detective Rhonda (Dickens, in the role of her career) arrives to investigate and immediately views Nick with suspicion. Amy is something of a local celebrity, having provided the inspiration for her parents' series of bestselling children's books, Amazing Amy, and so a press conference is called. The media focuses on Nick's apparent indifference to his wife's absence, and he becomes the target of a national witch hunt.
A series of twists and turns follows, but thankfully Fincher never allows the plot to overwhelm the drama. At its core, Gone Girl is a character piece, but where most such movies would be shaped by the performances of their casts, here it's Fincher's direction and, crucially, the masterful editing of Kirk Baxter, who oddly enough has never edited a non-Fincher project. Due to its structure, Nick and Amy rarely share the screen together, enjoying a distant antagonism like Roadrunner and Wile Coyote.
You wouldn't think it from the marketing, but Gone Girl is very much a black comedy, one of the year's funniest. Again, much of the humour comes from the editing, with Fincher and Baxter subtly manipulating comic timing. The film has many Hitchcockian elements, not least of all this manipulation of performances through editing. Hitchcock often cast limited actors in his films' lead roles, surrounding his stars with more naturally gifted character actors in supporting roles, and that's exactly what Fincher has done here. Neither Affleck nor Pike have great range, but when a director is as confident in his images as Fincher, that's not a problem. He's always been of the "less is more" school when it comes to his leads, which is why a moment like Brad Pitt's cringey "What's in the box?" schtick from Seven stands out so much. Affleck and Pike are given little in the way of dramatic heavy lifting, and it works in their, and the film's, favour.
Like many of Hitchcock's films, it's the supporting characters that leave the greatest mark here. As Affleck's twin sister Margo, newcomer Carrie Coons excels in the sort of role Hitch would have cast Thelma Ritter in. With Nick and Amy's romance on the rocks, the relationship between Nick and Margo almost functions as the film's romantic subplot. While he's long since lost interest in his wife, and is using a young student (Ratajkowski) purely to fulfill his carnal needs, the affection between Nick and Margo is undeniably real. The cast is rounded out with great turns from Neil Patrick Harris as a toffee-nosed former suitor of Amy, Patrick Fugit as a cynical local cop, and Tyler Perry as a showboating celebrity lawyer.
It's rare for a novelist to adapt their own script (Nabokov's work on Lolita is arguably the most notable exception) but it's Flynn who acts as screenwriter, which causes some problems. There are plot elements that could have easily been excised (a subplot involving Nick's senile father leads nowhere) and much of Amy's narration comes off as needlessly expository. On the other hand, Flynn's lack of experience in the form provides the film with an anarchic energy, a playfulness that might have been lost had a more seasoned screenwriter taken the reins.
Much of Gone Girl's marketing has focused on the film's exploration of the modern celebrity witch hunt, likely because this element occurs before the big twist, but it's the one aspect the movie fumbles. Missi Pyle is miscast as an over the top Fox News style anchor drumming up animosity towards Nick, and this subplot feels hackneyed and dated, having been covered with a greater satirical vigour by the likes of Paul Verhoeven (whose Basic Instinct also provides inspiration here) three decades ago. That said, it does make for one of the movie's greatest moments, as Nick manipulates his appearance on a chat show to serve his own needs, a scene that recalls Brian Cox's cameo in Fincher's masterpiece Zodiac.
The film's real central theme is a misanthropic but all too on the money exploration of what we really want from our romantic partners. To say anymore would be to reveal post twist plot elements, but when you see it yourself (and I highly recommend you do) it will be all too clear, perhaps uncomfortably so, depending on the current state of your own romantic entanglements.
By Eric Hillis