By Matthew McKibben | October 3, 2014
Writer: Gillian Flynn
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, and Emily Ratajkowski
I usually don’t add these, but it will be impossible to talk about this movie without addressing huge spoilers. So if you want to view this movie unspoiled, which I recommend doing, stop reading here.
Director David Fincher’s career seems to be filled with two kinds of movies. You have straight forward “true crime” style movies like Zodiac, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and The Social Network. Then you have movies like Se7en, The Game, and Panic Room, which play more like puzzles the viewer puts together as they watch it. Fincher’s Gone Girl splits the difference between the two and is all the weaker for it.
The first half of Gone Girl plays like a taut true crime style thriller as it intercuts three different timelines together; the early days of a loving relationship, the early days of Amy Dunne’s possible abduction/murder, and to Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) writing about her relationship in her journal. The movie does a brilliant job at showing how even the best relationship can descend into dysfunction when you add in toxic ingredients like job loss, loss of purpose, a move across the country, and quite frankly, people who may just not be completely right for each other.
At this point in 2014, with CBS having 15 different CSI style crime procedural dramas on every night and with the book industry seemingly being buoyed by page turning “whodunnit” books, there isn’t a whole lot that we can see in the realm of “true crime” inspired fiction books that hasn’t already been done before, however I completely bought in to the movie. David Fincher is a real master at creating atmosphere and he ratchets the tension up to an almost unbearable, uncomfortable degree. This is a movie that feels like one of those great “whodunnit” page turning books in that you really want the next scene to get here as quickly as possible so you can figure out what’s going on.
Ben Affleck gives a career-best performance as Nick Dunne. You’re never quite sure if Nick is glad Amy is gone, if he’s torn up she’s gone, both, or if he is hiding something and either knows what happens or was solely responsible for her abduction. The movie paints a complicated picture of the couple, giving much needed attention to both the good and bad times they faced. You see moments where you realize the couple understand each other in ways that they don’t understand any other person (perhaps even themselves), but then those moments are intercut with moments of great distress. It’s after her abduction, though, where Affleck really shines. He’s kind of glad she’s gone, and that makes him a creep, especially as he continues his affair with one of his college students (Emily Ratajkowski), but he also sells that her disappearance is putting him through the wringer, too. That you don’t know if he’s distraught that she’s gone or if it’s more due to him being the sole suspect in the case is a strength of both the script and Affleck’s performance. It’s also the question that drives the first half of the movie and one that I was looking forward to being answered.
Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit nearly steal the movie as the lead investigators on the case. They provide much needed tension-valve releasing comic relief and they’re both really great in the part. As the detective who suspects more than she lets on, and as her assistant who provides an “awww shucks” Midwestern sensibility to the movie, Dickens and Fugit add some layers to their parts, which are usually throwaway parts in movies like this.
While David Fincher is a master at these types of true crime movies, he also fancies himself as a social critic and satirist, and the movie has plenty of pitch black comedic elements throughout its running time. I particularly liked how on top of the whodunnit aspect of the movie, you had a Nancy Grace style show (Missi Pyle) acting almost as a Greek chorus for the events taking place on screen. As she’s turning the screw on Nick, and she’s turning the town against him, you as an audience member find yourself turning on Nick, too.
I really enjoyed the first half of the movie and had already started doing a mental list of my favorite David Fincher movies. I was already pretty sure that this was going to be high on the list. But then about halfway through the movie, when you learn the truth of what happened to Amy and the movie turns from its true crime promise into a mindfuck game pitting a psychopathic Amy against her husband that I felt the movie became a mess. Because Fincher is so great at what he does, the movie never truly lost me. Whereas the first half of the movie was like a pressure release valve that slowly let pressure out, the second half is like someone took an axe to that valve and released whatever was behind it all over the audience. Any question that you had in the first part of the movie was more or less jettisoned as you learned the depths of Amy’s twisted mind.
Rosamund Pike does well with what she has, but since her character is almost 100% vile in the second half of the movie, you end up hating her and hating everything that came before her disappearance. I wanted to continue debating whether or not Nick was a good person. I was even open to the movie ending with not knowing if Nick killed her or not. But to learn that Amy’s narration in the first half was all a lie felt like a cheat to me. It took the grey area that came as a result of their faulty relationship and turned it to full on a black and white situation where you chose sides. It’s the movie’s greatest sin and one that it never fully reconciles.
The whodunnit aspects of the movie were secondary now to the game being played as Nick realizes he’s being set up and that his head is on the line if he can’t find his wife and clear his name. So the detectives exit stage left, enter Tyler Perry’s high profile defense attorney Tanner Bolt stage right. In the ways that the detectives added some humor and lightness to the tension of the first half, Tyler Perry does similar things in the second half.
Neil Patrick Harris is at his creepy best as Desi Collings, the troubled former lover Amy seeks refuge with. He’s the type of character that only really exists in twisted page turning crime novels people read on airplanes. Neil Patrick Harris does well with the part, but it’s one that any number of actors could have done equally as well.
The movie is quite long and it feels it. Though I enjoyed the roller coaster that the movie took me on, I kept thinking “when is this going to wrap up?” David Fincher has “final cut” in his movie, so I never know if the fault lies with David Fincher or with editor Kirk Baxter. I’m leaning toward the former. As is typical of their collaboration, cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth gave the movie a dark and lived-in feel. I’ve always wished the David Fincher movies were lighted a little more than they are, but they definitely have their style and they’re sticking to it.
While this movie is a bit of a mess, it’s in many ways the ultimate David Fincher movie. Did you like the sick, twisted elements of Se7en; well this movie has some of that. Did you like the true crime aspects of Zodiac, there’s a lot of that, too. Like the subtle critique of modern society ala The Social Network, there’s a ton of that, too. There are even elements of The Game and Panic Room. So while it’s not his best, most concise movie, it was a fun ride that I have no interest in getting back on any time soon.