Gone Girl, David Fincher’s dramatization of the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn (who adapted her book for the film’s screenplay) opened on October 3, so this review is coming late to the party. But as might have been expected of a novel that has sold more than eight million copies since its release two years ago, people have been flocking to theaters to see it—fans of the book and others who have simply heard of it—and it has been the top-grossing box office film for two consecutive weeks. The movie, featuring Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne and Rosamund Pike (Jack Reacher, The World’s End) as his wife Amy, chronicles a murder mystery that becomes stranger and stranger as the plot unfolds. The story is so full of twists and turns that it is difficult to summarize it without cautioning you all about possible “spoiler alerts” to come, but I shall attempt to do so without the need for such warnings:
The morning of his fifth wedding anniversary Nick Dunne leaves his home in the town of North Carthage, Missouri, and stops at a bar that he manages with his twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon). Over an early-morning whiskey (it must be five o’clock somewhere) he vents to Carrie about the difficulties he has been having with his marriage of late. When he returns home, he finds his living room trashed and his wife missing. He calls the police, and Detectives Boney and Gilpin (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) visit the scene of the crime, where they find traces of what is apparently Amy’s blood on the scene.
Nick, who does not seem to be sufficiently distraught over his wife’s disappearance, becomes suspicious to both the police and the intrusive media, who are interested in the case particularly because Amy is something of a celebrity, having been the inspiration for a series of children’s books about a character called “Amazing Amy.”
As the film progresses, we are given alternate views of the events of the couple’s marriage, drawn from Nick’s statements to the detectives and contrasting entries from Amy’s diaries. Both seem to agree that after their meeting at a New York party and their whirlwind courtship and ideal early days of wedded bliss, things began to get more difficult for them when they lost their jobs in the publishing industry due to the recession, and when they moved to Missouri to be with Nick’s dying mother—and decided (well, Nick decided) that they would stay.
The accounts become skewed, though, after that, for whereas Nick cultivates the impression that the two were happily married (an impression we know to be false because of his previous conversation with his sister), Amy’s diary suggests a much darker relationship, one that involved incidents that have made her afraid of her own husband. Ultimately—and I don’t think I’m giving anything away here, since it is easily predictable from the beginning of the movie—Nick is arrested for Amy’s murder.
The charge may be a bit hard to prove without a body, but evidence does seem to point toward Nick’s guilt, and the media are particularly virulent in their treatment of him, turning him into “the most hated man in America.” Nick is essentially forced to hire celebrity attorney Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), who has made a career out of defending husbands afflicted with legal problems like his.
But this bare-bones synopsis cannot communicate the multi-layered texture of the film, which raises issues of marital fidelity, honesty, and trust (under what circumstances would one, or should one, choose to stay in a loveless relationship?); media involvement in high profile legal situations (what is the press’s responsibility to justice, fairness, and truth?); public persona vs. private character (to what extent might we manipulate our public image and thereby gain supports or rewards we may not in fact be entitled to?). In this way the film engages us on many levels.
On the other hand, there is a great deal in the plot of the film, particularly in the last half hour or so, that is hard for the viewer to accept. It is not simply that neither Nick nor Amy is particularly likeable—more to the point, they are both rather revolting, and in the end the audience ends up having to choose between the lesser of two pains in the ass. That is acceptable, because it is quite believable. The final plot twists ae so bizarre, though, that they strain credibility and audience sympathy.
Final plot twists aside, though, it must be stressed that Affleck, with his laconic presence and occasionally bland expression, is perfect for the part of Nick, who is hard to read and seems to investigators somewhat emotionless. Pike is also excellent in what may be a star-making role as a woman whose mendacity might make your blood boil. The rest of the cast is also excellent, in particular Perry who charmingly underplays his big-shot character; and Dickens (best-known for television work on shows like Treme, Friday Night Lights, and Deadwood) is memorable and—unusual for this film—sympathetic as the thorough and thoughtful local cop devoted to truth rather than public image. And then there is Neal Patrick Harris, who is incredibly creepy in a small role as one of Amy’s former lovers.
Fincher, known for his ability to build suspense and manipulate audience reactions in thrillers like Se7en, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Zodiac, does that here, especially though the alternation of narrative perspectives, using a he said/she said approach to move the audience’s sympathies between one character and the other until, of course, you don’t know who to trust, and the suspense is all that’s left. That and the rather extreme violence.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit I have not read the book, but I understand that Flynn’s script is very faithful to her novel, and fans of the book do not seem disappointed in the film. For myself, I found some of the plot twists to be fairly predictable, though a couple did catch me by surprise. The film is suspenseful and thought provoking, but in the end I can’t say I was fond of this movie because I simply did not like the characters and ultimately (as Gene Siskel used to say) I did not care about them. However, I must admit that the story was interesting, the cast impressive, and the film well made. I’ll give it three Tennysons, but I probably won’t be watching it again when it comes out on DVD.