Till Death Do Us Part: Gone Girl in Review

Adapted from the 2012 New York Times best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl is a merciless depiction of marriage gone awry. Quite possibly the worst of the worst marriage, in fact, as a fairy-tale sugar storm between two successful writers gradually devolves into a series of venomous barbs and threats before, ultimately, a murder investigation.

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Directed by David Fincher, with his knack for dark, disturbing affairs like Se7en and Zodiac, Gone Girl is rich with both suspense and inescapable sadness – a small Midwestern town engulfed in recessional collapse and a relationship that aptly follows suit. It features strong performances from Rosamund Pike, Ben Affleck and its supporting cast, and—adapted by Flynn herself—conveys virtually every essence of the novel, including the carefully crafted “he said, she said” aspect of the book. Yet the film still comes off a bit hollow and incomplete, as questions and motivations go unanswered.

This is the story of Nick and Amy Dunne’s marriage. Five years in and they’re at each other’s throats, the result of downsized jobs, relocation to rural Missouri, lots and lots of money troubles, and other complications. The fact that the film begins with Nick talking about “opening Amy’s skull, unspooling her brain and sifting through it,” should tell you just how bad things have gotten. One fateful day, when Nick comes home from work, he discovers the front door wide open, the cat outside, and the coffee table in the living room overturned and shattered.

Amy is gone, perhaps murdered or kidnapped, and Nick is the prime suspect.

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Unlike many of Fincher’s finest works—Zodiac, Fight Club, and The Social Network among themwhere his unique aesthetic lends itself to greater risks and creative choices, Gone Girl (and, previously, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) feel much more comfortable, like well-established stories with built-in audiences that had studios asking for the “Fincher treatment.”

Now, that’s not to say the execution is flawed. It just feels safe. This is an expertly made film that starts slow and builds toward its shocking climax. Quick and nimble, it juggles the structural complexity of Nick and Amy’s accounts from past to present with ease. And with consistently below-the-eyeline shots, claustrophobic and dimly lit surroundings, and moody sonic effects from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Fincher ably casts a shadow of futility on an already gloomy affair.

Rosamund Pike is a standout here, with seemingly limitless cold, calculated, sociopathic depths. And Ben Affleck, sporting a Batman-like physique, is surprisingly adept at showing the many sides of Nick Dunne, a corn-fed Midwestern boy who struggles with his own emotions and authenticity in the face of a media circus. Other casting choices, such as Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit as tack-sharp, dry-humored investigators Boney and Gilpin, are spot-on. And whenever the story needs a lighter dose, Tyler Perry’s Elvis-sized ego of an attorney, Tanner Bolt, is quick with a punch.

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Carefully avoiding any kind of spoilers, what one can say about Gone Girl is that it suffers from the same frustrating issues as the book: a missing person investigation is flawed, stories are rife with lies and deceptions, key characters’ motivations change inexplicably, and situations are conveniently resolved either through coincidence or great precision. In fact, the audience feels just like Boney at the final press conference, her inquisitive words falling on deaf ears.

Still, with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing and a heavy dose of relationship doom and gloom, Gone Girl is highly engaging and will most certainly have you talking.

Happy wife equals happy life, right? MM

Gone Girl opens in theaters nationwide October 3, 2014. Photos courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

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