Review: Gone Girl (2014)

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GONE GIRL is a solid mystery, a satisfying examination on the ins and outs (mostly outs) of relationships, but it’s a truly great film about the power of the media image and its complete and utter dominance in contemporary society.

On the surface of it, Nick and Amy Dunne (Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike) are the perfect couple. They’re successful, attractive and seemingly happy; they are the envy of everyone they know. When Amy suddenly goes missing in suspicious circumstances, a media campaign sparks country-wide search, and Nick becomes the prime suspect for disposing of his wife.

We have classic David Fincher here. Gone Girl is cold, calculated and immaculately formed (Fincher is such a perfectionist in everything he does that I’m sure he was really annoyed  that he couldn’t re-shoot the scenes where Affleck had gained Batman bulk). It’s also, next to FIGHT CLUB, the funniest film he’s ever made. It’s almost never comfortable comedy – Nick automatically reverting to full scumbag mode at the worst possible time, one of the cops muttering that describing the missing Amy’s personality as “complicated” is “code for bitch” – but funny is funny, black comedy is still comedy.

Like most good mysteries, the devil really is in the details. There are clues aplenty to be spot and mull over (in addition to those in envelopes literally marked “clue”) and once everything slots into place you’ll be kicking yourself for not appreciating the significance of some telling moments. I’ll admit I was expecting a more surprising final twist in the tale, but having said that the one we’re given works well enough, and keeps you involved in the plot even after you know who did what to whom (which was crucial considering at this point you’re still only about two thirds of your way through the film).

The casting for the film is very canny indeed. Affleck won the role of Nick because of the distinctive smile vapid he reserves for the media, Pike is Amy for her ageless, ethereal quality. Together they become equally one of the best and worst on-screen couples in history. Their scenes crackle with sexual chemistry, with lust, but also seethe with the purest rage. Film characters almost never have to be likeable to be compelling, and Amy and Nick are both pretty detestable in their way, but are nevertheless completely captivating. Nick is an insensitive, gullible moron who can’t help but look guilty, Amy is a ruthless, manipulative siren. At least Nick’s sister Margo (Carrie Coon) seems like a good person, because they’re in short supply in this story. As great as Pike and Affleck are, their show is almost stolen by Coon and Kim Dickens as the investigation’s lead detective, who both play the story’s two sharpest and most perceptive characters, and the only ones who could really claim to function as human beings. Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry both turn in solid performances as Amy’s ex and Nick’s lawyer respectively, but neither get enough screentime to make a lasting impression.

Fincher and screenwriter Gillian Flynn (adapting her own novel) wittily deconstruct contemporary society’s infatuation with gruesome stories in the media. Amy doesn’t have to be missing for very long at all before the nationwide search has a catchy tag “Find Amy” and her face and life story is plastered across newspapers, websites and press conference walls. Those following the story want Amy found, but equally they want to see the culprit humiliated and punished, their suspicions and their gut instincts to be proven correct. You can practically see onlookers circle like wolves when Nick makes a major gaffe of inappropriate behaviour not long after his wife goes missing. It represents human nature uncomfortably accurately, particularly the essential part schadenfreude plays in our existence.

On a moral level, this is a story that pushes you, that is designed to make you feel deeply uncomfortable. Just when you think events have taken their darkest turn, we get yet another gut-punch and by the end you feel deeply uneasy. Despite this feeling, miraculously it’s not a film in the “I admired it but couldn’t enjoy it” camp. On the contrary, it’s a really satisfying, dare I say it, fun, film in spite of all the depraved horribleness. Fincher might have cornered the market in terms of making entertaining films that he judges you for finding entertaining, and he’s certainly not softening as his career progresses. On the contrary, I think he might be becoming more removed from the rest of humanity with every film he makes. He remains a formidable, reliable and fascinating creative force on the film stage. SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

I'm not paid to write about film - I do it because I love it. Favourites include Sam Mendes, Guillermo del Toro, Bong Joon-ho, Steven Spielberg, Danny Boyle, Spike Jonze, Rian Johnson and the Coen Brothers. All reviews and articles are original works owned by me. They represent one man's opinion, and I'm more than happy to engage in civilised debate if you disagree.
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