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Josh Reviews Gone Girl

The idea of a movie adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel Gone Girl probably wouldn’t have been something that, on its own, would pique my interest, but the involvement of director David Fincher immediately put the project on my radar.  I have been a fan of Mr. Fincher’s ever since Alien 3 (a film that I feel is a terrible Alien sequel but that, if considered on its own as a stand-alone sci-fi/horror film, is a gorgeous and haunting piece of work).  The magnificent and terrifying Zodiac (a vastly underrated film) cemented Mr. Fincher in my mind as one of the finest directors working today, and I have been following his films eagerly ever since.

In Gone Girl, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home on the day of his five-year wedding anniversary to discover an empty house and signs of a struggle.  His wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), is missing.  The police begin an investigation, led by Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens).  Suspicion falls upon Nick, and as the story becomes a media sensation (because Amy was the subject of a series of well-known children’s books written by her parents called Amazing Amy) public opinion turns dramatically against him.  Nick, continuing to profess his innocence, eventually hires a high-profile defense attorney, Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), who specializes in high-profile media cases.  The circus continues to escalate.

The hook of the film, of course, is the twisty mystery of what happened to Amy Elliott-Dunne.  While that is compelling, as the film progresses, we see that there is far more to the story of this film than a simple who-dunnit.  As we watch, the film slowly pulls back the layers of the onion of the story of Nick and Amy.  Scene by scene, moment by moment, layer upon layer are slowly revealed of both Nick and Amy’s relationship as well as the events of the fateful day of Amy’s disappearance.  About half-way through the film, we learn the answer to the mystery.  It is the film’s best trick that the story gets only more interesting once the central mystery is solved.  (That is an impressive narrative feat.  I have high praise for Gillian Flynn, who wrote the screenplay adapting her own novel.)

The cast of Gone Girl is spectacular.  I’ve always been a fan of Ben Affleck, and I think he’s a far better actor than he often demonstrates, hindered by his often poor choice of films in which to appear.  In the past few years, he’s been getting much well-deserved acclaim as a director.  (His first film, Gone Baby Gone, is one of my favorite films of the past decade.)  So it’s fun to see Mr. Affleck really shine here as an actor.  In the first half of the film, when the audience is questioning Nick’s involvement in what happened to his wife, Mr. Affleck plays Nick with a lot of nuance, allowing us to engage with the character while also questioning whether he is a goofball or a jerk or someone who did something truly terrible.  Mr. Affleck needs to play every one of his scenes in a way that allows the audience to see all of those possibilities.  That is no easy trick.

Rosamund Pike first caught my attention in the dreadful Bond film Die Another Day.  Ms. Pike was the best thing about that film (despite all the hullaballoo over Halle Berry’s role).  I wish she had been in a better Bond film, and for a decade now I’ve been waiting for her to have another truly knockout role.  Ms. Pike has done a lot of fine work over the years, but mostly in lower profile spots or, when in higher-profile projects, they wind up being, like Die Another Day, situations where she is far better than the film in which she is appearing (like last years’ disappointing Jack Reacher).  Finally, here, Ms. Pike is given some really juicy material to play in a high profile film, and she absolutely destroys.  What a performance.  Ms. Pike is called upon to play an even wider array of different “versions” of her character than Mr. Affleck does, and she is absolutely convincing in every one.  This is a home run.

Had this film just rested on the shoulders of Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike’s great work, dayyeinu.  But holy cow is the supporting cast amazing.

I have to start with Tyler Perry.  I have never had any interest in Tyler Perry or his movies, and nothing I have ever seen of the man’s work has ever suggested to me that there was much of anything to take seriously.  But holy cow is he great in this film.  I can’t believe how great he is.  Mr. Perry is magnetic in every one of his scenes, huge fun to watch.  Mr. Perry is absolutely convincing as this big-time TV personality while also keeping the character firmly centered on a human scale.  Phenomenal.

Kim Dickens was one of the best things about the criminally under-watched show Treme (in which she played chef Janette Desautel), so I was thrilled to see her in such a major supporting role here as Detective Rhonda Boney, the officer who leads the investigation of Amy’s disappearance.  Ms. Dickens is so great here, avoiding the easy cliches of the grizzled police detective to give us a character who is tough but also kind and fair-minded.  She’s terrific.  Also terrific, by the way, is Patrick Fugit (all grown up in the years since Almost Famous) as her partner.

Neil Patrick Harris doesn’t enter the story in a major way until late in the film, and boy is he great, tamping down on his charisma to present us with a character who is both repelling and pitiable.  In any other film this would be a headlining role.  It’s a mark of how amazing the cast is in this film that it’s taken me this long in my review to get to Mr. Harris.

I also have to praise Carrie Coon, who plays Nick’s twin sister Margo (Go).  I was not familiar with Ms. Coon before seeing her here, but she is dynamite as Margo, a hugely likable, moral rock for Nick.  I will be paying attention to her work in the future.

Gone Girl has a lot to say about our media-obsessed culture, and the way our 10,000-watt fixation on the media circus du jour can take an event and twist and distort it until what the public sees as reality is far removed from actual truth.  Everything in the center of the film, in which Nick and his sister Go fret about how Nick’s every action is focused upon and dissected by the media, and the public obsessed with that media coverage, is fascinating.  Those scenes are funny but also scary.  (This is a great place to note Missi Pyle’s amazing work as the Nancy Grace-esque Ellen Abbot, a TV talking-head who becomes one of Nick’s primary media accusers.  At first I thought it WAS Nancy Grace in the movie!!)  This material is great, though thankfully any media-critical message does not overwhelm the film’s pulpy, twisty fun.

I’ve read a lot about how Gone Girl is also a film about marriage, but I’m not sure I see it that way.  There’s something to be said for how this story deals with the secrets that people keep from one another, even from those closest to them.  But that feels peripheral to the film’s point to me, and I’m not sure I am ready to draw and generalizations about the state of American marriages from the crazy, twisted relationship of Nick and Amy.

I think I’ve said enough.  I’m not sure what fans of the book make of Mr. Fincher’s adaptation, but going in knowing nothing about the story, I was immediately captivated.  Gone Girl is a powerhouse of a film, a deliciously twisty story brought to life by a top-shelf array of actors at the top of their game, all under the watchful eye of one of the finest directors working today.  There are layers in this film that I look forward to revisiting upon future viewings.  This is a great, fun piece of work.  And that ending… wowsers.

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