Woe be unto the critic who criticizes filmmaker David Fincher in 2014. From the time his name was connected to Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl, it was pre-ordained that his film adaptation would be a masterpiece. In reality, Gone Girl the film is a standard potboiler of a thriller that grows sillier with each passing half hour. Its attempts to comment on modern American media society and our inexplicable need to be voyeuristic participants in the tragedies of others are lost amid the ludicrous plot twists and melodrama.
Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) is working at the bar he owns with his twin sister when a neighbor calls to report that his front door is open and his cat is wandering around in the yard. Upon arriving at the residence, Nick finds signs of a struggle, and his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), is nowhere to be found. In mere hours, law enforcement declares Amy a missing person, and the search to find her kicks into high gear. As a few days pass with no sign of Amy, Nick finds himself rapidly transitioning from concerned husband to prime suspect.
Fincher is a master at capturing atmosphere in this films, and Gone Girl is no different. He effortlessly evokes the distrust and paranoia growing within family members who learn the deep dark secrets of loved ones they thought they knew. The depiction of the media frenzy, complete with a Nancy Grace stand-in who is certain of Nick’s guilt before he is even arrested, works both as a satire of our “reality TV” society as well as functioning as the dramatic crucible that tests the character of Nick, his in-laws and the other hometown folks caught up in this deadly drama.
The big plot twist that is familiar to fans of the novel is easy enough to swallow in the context of a big cinematic Hollywood thriller. But, the shifts in character and tone that follow eventually cause the film to devolve into an “anything goes” laugher. One preposterous development piles on top of another until you forget the serious, even somber, first sixty minutes of the film. Some critics in the Twitterverse have described Gone Girl as a “comedy”. That is either a joke in and of itself or the spin that Fincher apologists have adopted to explain the ever-shifting tone of this film. Yes, there are some nice moments of dry humor, but there are also a number of times that the audience laughs when they really aren’t expected to.
There are some high spots, namely the performances of Tyler Perry, Neal Patrick Harris and Kim Dickens as Nick’s criminal defense attorney, one of Amy’s past loves and the primary homicide detective, respectively. Then again, it’s probably not a good sign if the performances of the supporting cast are the best things about a film. Rosamund Pike delivers a very cold, off-putting portrayal of Amy that makes the audience wonder why Nick ever took her on a second date. The film is forced to rely heavily on Amy’s voiceover narration to explain her thoughts and feelings because she’s not given a chance to convey them through her on-screen performance.
Zodiac, Fincher’s 2007 film about the unsolved slayings in the San Francisco Bay area, is a crime masterpiece. It may very well be my favorite film of the past decade. It gets every little detail right without getting mired in the details. So, it’s a surprise that Gone Girl seems completely devoid of any internal rules to the point the final act of the film defies common sense to make its thematic point, and in the process, loses what little credibility it had left.
I do my best not to pre-judge a film. But, as October rolls around, it’s natural to start thinking about year-end Top 10 lists. It’s been a fabulous year in the world of indie films. But, I’m waiting for, maybe even expecting, some of the big fall studio releases to rewrite my list of favorites. I wholeheartedly expected Gone Girl to deny one of my indie faves a spot on my list. Looks like a slot just opened up.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.