A film review by Craig J. Koban October 12, 2014

 Rank: #5


2014, R, 149 mins.


Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne  /  Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne  /  Carrie Coon as Margo Dunne  /  Kim Dickens as Detective Rhonda Boney  /  Patrick Fugit as Detective Jim Gulpin  /  Tyler Perry as Tanner Bolt  /  Neil Patrick Harris as Desi Collins  /  Missi Pyle as Ellen Abbott  /  Casey Wilson as Noelle Hawthorne

Directed by David Fincher  /  Written by Gillian Flynn, based on her novel

David Fincher’s GONE GIRL is a brilliantly macabre and intoxicating film with such a labyrinthine narrative and thematic complexity that writing about it at any length without engaging in massive story spoilers is daunting.  

The best thing I could possibly recommend to viewers is to go in as cold as I did, which means having never read the source material that the film is based on, Gillian Flynn’s 2012 thriller novel of the same name.  At face value, GONE GIRL surrounds the mystery of what happened to a missing wife and the cauldron of deep suspicion that builds around her own husband’s potential guilt in the deed.  Alas, that’s just scratching the surface of Fincher’s film, which takes many dark and shocking twists and turns, always leaving audiences at an ambiguous distance. 

Hitchcock, no doubt, would have been most proud of what Fincher has achieved here.  GONE GIRL not only fully immerses us in its enthralling who-dunnit mystery, but it also crafts tension in not only its build-up to the wife’s disappearance, but also afterwards when it’s revealed who the real culprit is, after which time Fincher finds all new ways of warping the narrative momentum and manipulating our very expectations of these types of genre films.  Along the way, GONE GIRL also has legitimate things to say our modern social and media culture, especially on the former for how recent economic recessions can have disastrous effects on marriage.  The film also wisely points its satiric crosshairs at our salivating thirst for scandals in the ways that the media naively contorts established facts and sells their own pseudo news reality to viewers at home.  In the end, though, I was left exhausted by the sheer weight of GONE GIRL’s whole overarching ambition, but it’s a real testament to Fincher for making all of the divergent parts of the film fit into one cohesive whole. 

Again, I'm emphasizing that I'll attempt to steer away from spoilers as much as possible, which consequently will leave my plot synopsis somewhat simplistically rendered.  What you need to know is this: The main thrust of the plot is the marriage of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck, as robustly stalwart as he has even been in a film) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike, in a career breakout performance).  The film opens by teasing particulars of how they met, how they eventually hooked up, and then married.  Initially, their marriage is one of mutual love and trust, but as the years go by something just seems…off between them, which is really driven home when they move back to Nick’s home in Missouri (largely without Amy’s blessing) to care for his dying mother.  The two have also been jobless for quite some time because of the recent economic recession, but Amy has a rather large trust fund that they’ve been subsiding on. 



Things get bleaker when Nick comes home one day and finds that his wife has disappeared…and with evidence in the home of an apparent struggle.  Detective Boney (a sly and headstrong Kim Dickens) and Officer Gulpin (a perpetually poker faced Patrick Fugit, wonderful here) launch an investigation, and the longer it goes on the more they point fingers at Nick for being the prime suspect.  Nick, of course, steadfastly pleads his innocence, even when the media grabs his story and begins emphasizing his potential guilt before it can even be proven in a court of law.  Nick goes on the offensive by hiring a high stakes lawyer (Tyler Perry) that rarely loses, but as the film careens forward from one revelation to the next the prospect of Nick being culpable grows even more.  Yet, did he really do the deed?  Is he innocent and just an emotionally and sexually frustrated husband that was about to divorce his wife or is he hiding something truly dark and sinister that would prove his guilt? 

I’ll say this: GONE GIRL does indeed reveal what has happened to Amy…but it’s not entirely what you expect.  Most thrillers would provide answers only at the conclusion of a film, but GONE GIRL shows us its cards at the mid-way point, and at this time the film segues from being a standard order mystery thriller to one about the way people sinfully manipulate other people – and the media, the police, and even their own legal representation - to get the upper hand.  Sprinkled through the film are snippets of Amy’s diary that reveals her inner most desires and insecurities about herself, her marriage, and Nick in general.  The film also contains multiple other perspectives, some which are reliable, some which are revealed to be phony.  The sheer delight in taking the journey of GONE GIRL is in seeing Fincher methodically pulling the strings like a detached, omnipotent presence throughout.  You can sense the director’s unbridled glee in relaying the shared misery and dread of all of the souls on screen here.  Even when the film traverses down some truly depraved developments that have shades of BASIC INSTINCT you’re still mesmerized by wanting to know what will happen next. 

Ben Affleck is an actor that never really gets enough credit for being a dependable presence that can carry a film.  He has the tricky task in GONE GIRL of playing a deeply flawed and, in some ways, deeply unsympathetic man that’s has committed misdeeds against his wife and somehow makes him a neutral figure of interest in the story.  Nick is neither a protagonist nor an antagonist (he can’t entirely be trusted), but Affleck shows him as a man dealing with mounting pressures from all vantage points that’s reaching a breaking point (his performance is powerful for how it never tips off his guilt for Amy’s disappearance one way or another).  Rosamund Pike arguably has the more difficult role as her melancholic uprooted Manhattanite that begins the film as a woman that’s relatively assured and composed and then becomes more deeply neurotic and paranoid as domestic pressures begin to get the better of her.  It’s the kind of Oscar caliber work that’s deserving of such a moniker for the manner that Pike has to make so many psychological detours with her character, exposing one hidden layer of subtext to Amy as the film moves forward.  People will be talking about Pike’s superlative work here for a long time. 

Affleck and Pike are complimented by the film’s tour de force supporting performances as well, especially from Carrie Coon, who’s sensational playing Nick’s deeply supportive sister who manages to be both a compassionate figure for Nick to turn to while being the reproachful voice of reason in his life when he needs it.  Perry, Dickens, and Fugit are, as stated, uniformly excellent in their respective roles, as is Neil Patrick Harris, who turns up late in the film in an undeniably creepy role as one of Amy’s exes that still harbors an unnaturally strong affection for her and her plight as a missing woman.  Most of these characters, in one form or another, coalesce with each other throughout GONE GIRL, some of them one step ahead of the other, whereas some still are playing catch up.  In a way, the personas here serve as a meta-film commentary for the audience’s predicament in experiencing the film; we’re never really on top of what’s transpiring…even when we think we are. 

Then there’s Fincher himself, whom always demonstrates himself to be a master technical craftsman in his films, and GONE GIRL – despite being done on a relatively modest budget – is no exception.  The digital cinematography by Jeff Cronenweth creates an ominous look and feel the proceedings that pitch perfectly meshes with the underlining story, and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ hauntingly synthesized musical chords reiterate the escalating perversity of Nick’s plight.  Most crucially, though, is how Fincher allows GONE GIRL to leisurely build suspense and intrigue, especially in the opening sections of the film, which further allows for the more explosively shocking plot twists later on to have that much more of a visceral impact.  Some films – make that most films – don’t earn their plot twists, but GONE GIRL does. 

I don’t engaging in self-congratulatory accolades in my reviews, but in closing I’m kind of proud of how I handled myself here with GONE GIRL.  Many reviews made forthright attempts at spoiling the film’s secrets – which are many – and that’s the easy way out.  To be fair, Fincher’s brooding, stylish, and masterful adaptation of Flynn’s novel is a tough nut to crack in review form.  Alas, I don’t have to ruin GONE GIRL’s sublime surprises to relay how the film worked on me.  In the end, I was left I a state of breathless awe as it shows a meticulously well crafted marriage of directorial instincts, invigoratingly brave performance choices, and unnerving and warped scripting into one uniformly stellar package.  This is the kind of film that endless water cooler discussions were made for. 


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