Gone Girl

Gone Girl ★★★★½

Caressing her hair in his hands, Nick Dunne reflects on his wife’s beauty. Through voice-over, he tells us that Amy’s head is her best feature and he would like nothing more than to crack it open, digging through the brains, just to know what she is thinking. “What have we done to each other?” he silently muses. Suddenly, she looks up, her expression vague, but thoughtful. Shattering the command of her husband’s interior monologue and penetrating the previously voyeuristic viewpoint of the audience, it is very quickly clear that Amy Dunne’s mind will be just as great a mystery to us as it is to her husband. Such violent language and murky truths epitomize the thrust of Gone Girl, a film in which marriage, the whole bloody affair, is dragged out for discussion. Knowing director David Fincher’s methods, there will be no easy answers.

The lovers, Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamond Pike), meet for the first time at a party in 2005. She comes from a privileged background and he does not, but their connection is immediate. Like perfect sparring partners, their banter is reciprocally sharp, playful and sexy. She questions his so-called “villainous” chin and he quells her feigned worry, covering it up with two fingers and proceeding to stroke her sugarcoated lips. The love is there for sure, but their exchanges, shown via flashback, begin to resemble increasingly serious bouts between two subtly venomous competitors and when the question is eventually popped, one must wonder if this fairy tale is true and if they can possibly co-exist. As expected, post marital troubles escalate over the years, and the culmination is Amy’s disappearance on the morning of the couple’s fifth anniversary. Sympathy for Nick quickly turns to scrutiny, as the wheels of the media circus begin to spin and revelations drop like atom bombs.

The plot of Gone Girl is difficult to describe to the uninitiated without giving up key twists. However, if one’s only familiarity with the material comes from the film’s marketing, it’s a safe bet that the viewing experience will be unsullied by spoilers. Like its shifty characters, Gone Girl is a hard film to pin down. It’s unpredictably structured, skipping from present day to past events, while using a pair of unreliable narrators (one of which possibly speaking from beyond the grave) to share both sides of the story. The film frequently subverts expectations, pulling an important reveal early on that allows late narrative crescendos to hit with greater ferocity. The audience’s focus is meaningfully drawn away from what matters, roped in by the sensation of the initial mystery, but kept in suspense by the thematic dynamics that emerge once that mystery dissipates.

David Fincher manages all of this with a typically cool touch. A master of detailed storytelling, the precision with which he stations his plot points keeps the film’s thriller aspect in check, but it is his approach to drama that is truly fascinating. While also functioning as a satire on the media, Gone Girl works primarily as a commentary on agency, martial love and gender-split power dynamics. Not one to be swayed by emotion, Fincher relishes in the harsh facts of his cinematic world and in the sharp tongues that speak them, effectively cutting through the sentimentality that would ordinarily accompany a story like this. He’s aided by the script in this respect, which contains dialogue that recalls “The Social Network” in its rapidity and acerbic wit (humor that is well-placed in an otherwise black hearted film). Because of these choices, Gone Girl takes on a removed sensibility that may only serve to distance the viewer from the events, but even if emotionally disconnected, one will likely be at least compelled by the intricacy of the story. Simultaneously, Fincher lets his aesthetics recede in prominence. Jeff Cronenweth’s framing is excellent and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross collaborate for yet another stunning musical score, but both aspects are notably subdued, refraining from needlessly flashy shots or audibly overwhelming tracks. As a result, the gripping plot and tremendous performances take center stage.

Gone Girl’s ensemble is the kind that one often can only dream about. Fincher tends to go unnoticed for his ability as an actor’s director and his prowess is on full display here. From those top-billed to the bit players, he gets the best out of everyone. Ben Affleck is perfectly cast and gives the best performance of his career as the put-upon and criminally ambiguous Nick. Alternately sympathetic and untrustworthy, his good-guy persona is put to great use. Almost stealing the show is Carrie Coon in the role of Nick’s supportive, but tough sister and pleasantly surprising in a couple of against-type roles are Tyler Perry as Nick’s charismatic lawyer and Neil Patrick Harris as a shady ex-boyfriend of Amy’s. However, it is Rosamond Pike that stands above all, due to reasons impossible to describe without spoiling some aspect of the story. Her character is potentially iconic and it is entirely because of her layered performance that this is achieved.

Finally, Gone Girl’s most impressive feat is its ability to take page-turning, largely implausible crime fiction material and elevate it to something more significant. Hidden in the guise of a pulpy thriller, the film’s treatment of sexual politics is a joy to explore. It shifts the role of the aggressor, sending both men and women on the offensive and defensive, toying with the relationship’s dynamic and challenging traditional roles. There are vultures and villains on both sides, and neither men nor women come out unscathed. Funny, frightening and fascinating, Gone Girl is a two and a half hour-long roller coaster ride worth taking. As unbelievable as the plot can be, it is a story told by an expert and one that makes for entertaining viewing and stimulating post-film discussion.

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