Movie Review: Gone Girl
By Matthew Huntley
October 8, 2014
The trailer for Gone Girl, and indeed the first half of the movie itself, makes it seem like a traditional crime thriller. Husband reports his wife missing; detectives investigate; suspicions arise; the press formulates its own theories; the local community, let alone the entire nation, becomes obsessed not so much with the truth but with the ensuing drama and gossip. You know the drill. The movie sets itself up as a standard whodunit, with the question of whether or not the husband had anything to do with his wife’s disappearance driving the narrative.
Thrillers like the one I’ve just described often work effortlessly as entertainment because we’re naturally curious about their outcomes and we’re compelled to keep watching just to see how they end, even though it’s usually easy to guess. But interestingly enough, Gone Girl, based on the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn, isn’t wholly like the thriller I’ve just described. It’s fresher and more audacious. It’ll probably leave many viewers thinking it’s too bizarre, outlandish and unbelievable for its own good, or at least to be taken seriously, but I think this will just be an initial gut reaction simply because it doesn’t play out the way we expect. Over time, I think most viewers will come around and appreciate its boldness.
Like any thriller plot, Gone Girl begins on a seemingly normal day. Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) takes the trash out to the curb, grabs a coffee and paper, and heads to his place of business, a bar he co-owns and where his twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon), tends. They’re in the middle of playing a board game when Nick, who’s currently out of work, gets a phone call from his neighbor, who tells him his cat has gotten out and the front door is open. Nick rushes home and expects to find his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), who’s also unemployed, in the middle of her own daily routine. But Amy is nowhere to be found and their glass coffee table is tipped over and shattered.
Nick calls the police and Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and Officer Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) show up. Rhonda starts asking questions and leaves Post-it notes around the alleged crime scene. They open a formal missing persons investigation and within a day, Amy’s parents (David Clennon and Lisa Banes) set up a search party headquarters, a telephone hotline and a website, beseeching the community to help them find their daughter. The police also schedule a press conference for Nick to make a statement, although he doesn’t seem to be all that worried or distraught over the recent events.
From here on out, the film goes back and forth between the past and present, showing us, among other things, when Nick and Amy first met in New York City seven years ago. Both were successful magazine writers and we learn Amy already came from a wealthy family (she was the inspiration for her mom’s successful children’s book series, “Amazing Amy,” which is something Amy ultimately resents). But when the 2008 recession hit, Nick and Amy both lost their jobs and her parents had to borrow from her trust fund. On top of that, Nick’s mother fell ill, which prompted the couple to leave New York and move back to Nick’s hometown of North Carthage, Missouri. Granted, they’re now living in an impressive home in an otherwise modest neighborhood, but they’re struggling financially and Amy’s diary passages suggest their marriage went from loving to abusive. We’re led to believe Nick isn’t telling the police everything.
That’s about as much as I can reveal about the plot without giving away crucial surprises and developments, which are key to the movie engaging us. I haven’t read Flynn’s novel, but her screenplay functions like a page-turner. It’s erotic, suspenseful, sometimes funny, and borders on being a trashy soap opera, aided by additional characters played by Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris. Nevertheless, it’s effective and tantalizing and we almost feel like it’s wrong to enjoy it.
At times, it may seem like Gone Girl is jerking us around with all its twists and misdirection, but again, the only reason we might feel this way is because we’re too used to thrillers operating in terms of pre-defined rules, the kind that stipulate things are “supposed” to be a certain way. But director David Fincher has never been one to follow the rules. He makes genre films, but he merely uses the genre as a platform to be cunning and the results often feel like a small cinematic breakthrough (Fight Club, Zodiac, The Social Network). Fincher makes a habit of turning conventions upside down, and not necessarily for upside down’s sake, but because he knows we’ve reached a point in cinema, particularly thrillers, where conventions need to be shaken up to keep things moving.
That’s what Gone Girl does - it shakes us up. And even though it’s sometimes absurd, it’s very well made and calculating, not to mention enormously entertaining. If most thrillers hold our attention because we take comfort in the fact we know where they’re ultimately going, Gone Girl thrills us because we don’t.