Expert film discussion from completely unqualified people


October 10, 2014

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Review: Gone Girl

Rob reviews David Fincher's latest. Warning: Heavy spoilers and Ben Affleck's penis ahead.

Is there a working director as consistently enthralling as David Fincher? Next to Edgar Wright, there is none whose work I look forward to more. I still hold Zodiac as his masterpiece, but his entire catalogue (even low points like Benjamin Button) are steeped in the style and grace of an auteur whose best work may still be ahead of him. I doubt he’ll ever rouse the Academy beyond the two nominations in his pocket, though. Happily, he seems not to care. 

His latest is Gone Girl, based on the 2012 bestseller by Gillian Flynn. I’ve not read it, but by all accounts it’s a genre piece embraced by literary intelligentsia and mass audiences alike. Ben Affleck leads the film adaption as Nick Dunne. Nick is bored and listless; his first scene is a bar-side lament about his failing marriage to Amy. It’s his fifth anniversary and he’s already out of gift ideas. Out of energy. Out of interest. Lending an ear is his twin sister Margot (Carrie Coon, who kills it as our surrogate in this bizarre tale). She doesn’t count herself among Mrs. Dunne’s fans, but encourages her brother to keep his head up.

Nick returns to his rented McMansion to find some furniture overturned and his wife missing. The police are called, the detectives make their notes, and Nick is taken in for questioning.  What follows is a media circus: His shallow and opportunistic in-laws (Lisa Banes and David Clennon) are the creators of Amazing Amy, a series of children’s books which fictionalize the real Amy’s extracurricular failures into inspiring successes. They parlay that minor fame into tip lines, billboards, and Donate Please to Find Amazing Amy drives. Affleck shines brightest when playing against their manufactured grief with his own genuine confusion. The search, led by Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens), begins. 

But is Dunne’s confusion genuine? Affleck plays the first act a bit distracted. There’s something more here. He’s ignoring text messages and deflecting questions. You’ve likely seen the trailer scene in which he pleads ignorance to questions about his wife’s friends, hobbies, and blood type. How can he not name a single friend? The signs seem almost too clear: Someone's mopped up a whole lot of blood in the kitchen and hoped no one would notice. What started as the search for a missing person becomes the search for a dead person. Detective Boney has seen this before and knows where it goes, but Nick maintains his innocence. His flippant on-camera persona (punctuated by the oh-so-perfect Affleck Smirk) doesn't help. It vilifies him immediately in the eyes of the public. Ellen Abbott (a wonderful Nancy Grace expy played by Missi Pyle) leads the charge of the Angry Suburban Woman. What starts as sad social commentary evolves into Fincher challenging his audience to believe the hype. For a while, we just might.

But discerning viewers know this thread is just spooling up. We’re soon treated to etherial recreations of the diary entries of Mrs. Amy Elliott-Dunne herself, played with capital-G Glee by Rosamund Pike. If you're like me, you remember Ms. Pike as the girl from the atrocious Bond entry Die Another Day and the woefully under-seen The World’s End. Rest assured, we will all remember her by name after seeing her here. While Nick is hounded by reporters and auditioning legal council, we learn that Amy has pulled a magic trick. She's made a getaway into obscurity. Now we get it. She’s the real sociopath in the marriage. Where she goes and what she does from here should be left unsaid until after viewing, but anyone who tells you they saw it all coming is lying. 

Ms. Flynn has adapted her own novel for the film’s screenplay. While I still plead my own ignorance to the source material, I can say it’s a fine script. It’s full of purpose and intrigue and tabloid smut, but what saves it from Scandal-esque soap operatics is Fincher’s deft hand. His tonal shifts are minimal and always effective. We’re always learning something new. Nothing is wasted. This is a 145-minute film that doesn’t feel its length. Quite the opposite, really. I was on-board for every twist and turn. There are some inconsistencies (the handling of Neil Patrick Harris’ character, a school-age lover whom Amy kept on the leash, rings too convenient and false), but it’s all in service of a greater whole. Tyler Perry’s stunt-casting as a high-profile lawyer out to lend Nick his services pays off. He’s great in his limited screen time. 

All this aside, Gone Girl manages to weave a scathing deconstruction of marriage and desire. Nick is a liar. Amy is, too. I found my allegiances shifting minute to minute. The final act’s payoff moment (which I’ll only say involves a certain car pulling into a certain driveway) is sure to alienate and confuse those who expected a straight law-and-order revenge yarn. But repeated viewings will prove that this is where Fincher and Flynn have been leading us the entire time. It’s sure to resonate with anyone who’s ever looked at their spouse and wondered, “What have we done to each other?” 

Rob DiCristino writes and podcasts for The Ugly Club (@uglyclubpodcast). Follow him on Twitter @RobDiCristino. He mostly tweets about Ben Affleck.


  1. So, I just tried posting this big, long, eloquent response and it got deleted. Fml. So, here's the abbreviated version.

    This movie is great, you hit the nail on the head, and I applaud Gillian Flynn for her adaptation. I did read the book and I plead that you read it (I devoured the 400-ish pages in 3 days) that said, I think Flynn tastefully edited the story and kept its integrity.

    Two things I have to say though:
    1. Nick is so much more complex in the novel. We catch a glimpse of this in the beginning/end of the movie, but in the novel it is so much more visceral and unsettling, yet sympathetic. I HATED him, but rooted for him. Additionally, Nick's feelings for Amy shift more than once as the treasure hunt progresses, which adds to the love story, albeit a sick one, at the heart of Flynn's prose.

    2. Desi is a creeper. More of a creeper, I should say. Everything that happens at his house, I kind of felt "Story Desi" deserved. The nuances of his character that are left out make "Movie Desi" a bit more innocent and sympathetic. Now that I think about it though, the result is a more depraved Amy. So, I don't know which is better or what I want more.

    Either way, Fincher paints Flynn's words beautifully. Tastefully.

    Still, read the book (and let me know when you do).

    1. Yea the film definitely left me with a lot of questions, ESPECIALLY about Desi. I understood why his character was there, but I felt like there was a lot of short-changing going on between book and film.

      I also see what you're saying about Nick. I actually disagree with a lot of reviews that say the film was misogynist and made him too sympathetic. There was a lot unsaid between the two of them in the film and I definitely want to get a clearer picture by reading the novel.