Gone Girl is a layered narrative experience that can be appreciated on multiple levels – with an intriguing central mystery, rounded characters, and sharp social commentary.
In Gone Girl, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home to discover that his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), has disappeared from their Missouri home under suspicious circumstances. Despite her quiet mid-western life with Nick, Amy is no stranger to the public spotlight; as a kid in New York City, she was the inspiration for the popular children’s book character “Amazing Amy,” earning her a host of adoring fans (and more than one obsessed stalker). As a result, the search for Amy dominates the cable news cycle – thrusting Nick, and his sister Margo (Carrie Coon), into the national spotlight.
As frustration mounts, Nick hires notorious legal defense attorney Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) to manage his case – a move that causes many to question what the grievinghusband has to hide. However, while Nick might be presumed guilty in the court of public opinion, it is up to Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) to investigate the case for actual evidence that proves Dunne murdered his wife.
Aside from some subtle changes, the fundamental Gone Girl story and most of its characters are akin to those found in the book – as are the novel’s primary thematic threads. Like the source material, the movie is a thorough examination of love and marriage – as well as the challenges that couples face in times of uncertainty and struggle. Similarly, media exploitation is a major focus of Flynn’s book, and Fincher relishes in the opportunity to lampoon fickle cable news culture (via talking head commentators played by Missi Pyle and Sela Ward). Nevertheless, restless moviegoers hoping for a straightforward mystery-thriller may find Gone Girl to be a stringent character study – one that prioritizes literary drama over cheap thrills from start to finish, with good reason.
Rosamund Pike is equally effective as Amy – providing a unique and unyielding exploration of the joy and pain inherent in any longterm relationship. While Affleck is the star of Gone Girl, and the focus of the film narrative, Pike’s performance is the standout. Paired with Fincher’s subtle manipulation of tone, Pike presents Amy as a complicated and haunting figure – one that moviegoers and critics will likely remember for a long time (not to mention during awards season).
Both performances are slave to the messages and themes in the Gone Girl story – but even when certain moments come across as melodramatic or manipulative, it’s clear Fincher is making intentional choices – in service of a larger creative vision (with meaningful payoff by the end). The same can be said for the supporting cast, which is comprised of characters that blend social cliches (example: the TV-hungry defense attorney) with relatable human drama. Even if select characters will be familiar to moviegoers, Flynn and Fincher ensure that everyone has a unique flourish and an essential part to play in the greater Gone Girl plot.
Fincher never portrays his characters in black or white – and nearly every single player in Gone Girl is depicted as a shade somewhere in between. Dickens, in particular, succeeds as both a driving force and barometer for the police investigation – guiding viewers through a minefield of allegations, assumptions, and secrets, all while playing devil’s advocate. Neil Patrick Harris gets to perform against his standard TV comedy type-casting as Desi Collings – Amy’s eccentric, and obsessive, former boyfriend. Sadly, while Harris does his best with the part, the film ultimately paints him in relatively shallow strokes, underserving what could have been a great platform for the actor. Perry and Coon also deliver in their roles – as Nick’s attorney and twin-sister, respectively.
It might not be essential for big screen-viewing but it’s worth a trip to the theater – if for no other reason than to make sure interested parties can go in without expectation (and avoid being spoiled).
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