REVIEW: Gone Girl

17 11 2014

The gender politic has never been so fun or fierce to observe as it manifests in “Gone Girl,” David Fincher’s wickedly delectable adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel.  His eye for detail and intuition for the dark impulses that drive human behavior is a fitting, if not immediately obvious, match for her understanding of the roles available for men and women to assume or subvert in society today.

Together, they perform quite an incisive autopsy of the modern marriage which is every bit as confrontational as it is challenging.  The devilish duo might only be topped ingenuity by Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), the crazy couple they breathe into cinematic existence.  In their own distinct ways, they will lie, manipulate, and forge as necessary to get what they want out of the other.

Games that couples play have traditionally been a rich territory to mine for drama, but perhaps only “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” has dared to look this deep into the dark heart of nuptial discontent.  With their marriage plainly turned acrid, Nick finds himself at the center of suspicion when his wife mysteriously and rather suspiciously disappears.  The fact that Amy’s parents turned her life into inspiration for a best-selling children’s book series brings in a mob of overeager television personalities – led by a not-so-thinly veiled Nancy Grace surrogate (Missy Pyle) – going for his jugular.  It’s a trial by media, held in a writer’s room rather than a jury’s deliberation room.

Fincher does slightly overplay his hand in the first act of the film, all too clearly elucidating the unspoken implications and bringing to the forefront Flynn’s undertones of regional differences between Nick’s midwest community and Amy’s elite northeast upbringing.  Through Patrick Fugit’s assisting police officer on the case, whose face Fincher often cuts to after a plot development, the intended feelings for the audience get telegraphed a little too obviously.

Pike Affleck Gone Girl

But once the big bombshell plot twist occurs, “Gone Girl” becomes as satisfying to watch on the screen as it is to voraciously devour on the page.  This, as fans of the book will know, occurs mainly because Amy gets completely unleashed.  Rosamund Pike is sinfully sensational in her embodying of Flynn’s twisted, brilliant character.  She’s a lethal combination of resentment and education, a dual degree earner from Ivy League institutions dragged by her husband down from her ivory tower and back to his native Missouri.  To play the victim, however, is much too plebeian for Amazing Amy.

Without going into detail about the deeds she commits, it is tough to fully capture how compulsively engrossing it is to watch Pike.  She can shift in mere seconds from an incredulous doe-eyed glance to an icy death glare.  Yet no matter what expression she wears, Pike always hints at machinations behind the deliberative facade that are Machiavellian at their most innocuous and sociopathic at their most dangerous.  They are never consummated in the moment, though, because she plays a more fulfilling long game – just like “Gone Girl” as a whole.

Lest it appear that the film portrays Amy as just some kind of scheming, villainous shrew, Nick certainly does not emerge unscathed from Fincher and Flynn’s razor-sharp appraisal of a gendered power imbalance.  Sure, he has to endure some unjust sadism, but sympathizing with him in his fits of rage somehow feels tantamount to accepting the manifesto of the Santa Barbara shooter Elliot Rodger.  Much of Nick’s struggle comes from the slow erosion of his male privilege, and the way he lashes out against females for ripping away his pride is often indefensible.

Thankfully, there are plenty of access points built into “Gone Girl” amidst the ferocious central battle of the sexes.  The emotional function is mostly filled by Nick’s twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon in one humdinger of a breakout role), although Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) provides an interesting entry for those who wish to remain rational yet skeptical.  These actresses, with Fincher’s obsessive lack of acting artifice and Flynn’s biting dialogue, really help to keep the film moving at an enjoyable clip.

Two and a half hours of commentary as dense as this rarely feels so consistently entertaining, energetic, and engaging.  “Gone Girl” is proof of how necessary it is for a great movie to possess a central brain containing both the eye of a meticulous craftsman and the silver tongue of a great storyteller.  Fincher and Flynn are a unified front in their presentation of marriage as knowing the other person in the relationship well enough to recognize the fictions they want to believe in order to continue living.  Their collaboration produces a truly resounding film that deserves to stand as a signpost of the times.  A-3halfstars



One response

27 11 2014
Lights Camera Reaction

Nice! Glad you liked it. The heart of the film is something that David Fincher makes clear and both Affleck and Pike are accustomed to with every characteristic of their performances – is that Gone Girl is in the long run, a love story, one made accurate by its contrariness.

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