GONE GIRL Review: Pedestrian Double-Crossing
There’s a scene early in Gone Girl, the film based on the 2012 New York Times best seller (of the same title) written by Gillian Flynn and directed by David Fincher, that occurs after Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) has reported his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), missing. The police have brought Nick into the station to take his statement, and in his discomfort with the situation – the circumstances, the setting, so forth – he makes a comparison between his immediate situation and TV’s Law & Order (complete with a quick humming of a few bars from the show’s theme). This scene is the defining meta moment in a movie that starts with a made-for-TV procedural base, slathers on film noir elements, throws it in a Hollywood blender, and cranks it to 11. The result is an interesting brand of pulp that entertains but doesn’t necessarily satisfy.
The film opens with Nick, after taking in a couple of late-morning rounds in the bar he co-owns with his sister Margo (Carrie Coon), being alerted to a problem at his house. He arrives to find evidence that Amy appears to have been abducted, if not worse. He notifies police, alerts his in-laws, and begins navigating the treacherous waters of being a man under suspicion of possibly having killed his wife. His life becomes the center ring in a scrutiny circus, with the police investigating him from the ring to his left and the media investigating him from the ring to his right; all the while, the court of public opinion is the audience. Nick’s behavior – his actions and inactions – make it impossible to tell if he is guilty. The evidence suggests he just might be.
There is a lot of movie left after that, of course, but to divulge almost anything more would be to reveal a major plot twist that takes the film in a surprising direction.
That shift in direction is more than a plot twist; it’s the salvation of Gone Girl, which is saddled early with an arduous procedural approach that plays like any modern cop show playing in reruns right now. Fincher is no stranger to crime procedurals (see 2007’s Zodiac and, to a certain extent, 1995’s Se7en). Unlike those brilliant efforts, which deal with serial killers, who their next victims might be, and who they themselves might be, Gone deals in the singular: one victim and one suspect. Without a broader unknown to work more freely within, Fincher retreats to a by-the-numbers approach of crime scene investigation, evidence collection, questioning, surprising (and yet not surprising) revelations about Nick’s personal character, and his ambiguously suspicious (yet obligatory) actions that occur away from the police. Sure, the procedure – or at least its collective result – is mostly integral to the story, but the storytelling is uninspired.
The meta reference to Law & Order is spot-on and almost humorous in retrospect.
Also plaguing that opening is the overwritten and overwrought narrative that accompanies the flashback-presented telling of the Rise and Fall of Nick and Amy Dunne. As narrated by Amy as if she is reading from her journal, the flashbacks document the couple’s introduction, romance, marriage, and subsequent marital struggles. The scenes themselves offer a thorough background, but the text is almost theatrical in its weight. Recognizing Amy is a writer and, with her collegiate pedigree, is likely to speak that way, it still sounds more like a prerecorded tutorial than a person’s diary.
The rest of the film still remains procedural in execution, but the twist that gets you out of Act I at least breaks the monotony, increases the interest level, and introduces characters that inject some needed energy into the picture. Those characters include additional scenes with First Act-denizen Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle), a cable news controversy-instigator; and Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), a high-profile lawyer who takes Nick’s case.
The film’s ending is simply terrible. And while everything that happens in the entire film requires a suspension of disbelief that is easily given, even within THAT context, the ending strains credulity.
But despite any technical or executional issues, what’s most puzzling about this, Fincher’s tenth film, is how pedestrian it all is. Despite its non-linear tale and its twist and its attempted eloquence (or at least its verbosity), it’s a story told a million times on basic cable television, albeit with numerous sex scenes, each a little hotter than the last, although most unnecessary to the story’s function.
Does it have a better pedigree? Of course it does. Fincher’s name alone adds gravitas to the film; and Affleck, Perry, and Neil Patrick Harris (as an old high school love of Amy’s) raise the profile and the net result of the production. (The rest of the cast – especially Pike and Coon – are terrific.) Is it entertaining? Absolutely. I was in for a dime when I bought my ticket; I was in for a dollar once that twist hit.
But just as a world-class chef cooking at Denny’s is still serving Denny’s food, so to is an auteur at the helm of a potboiler still rolling film on action with the lowest common denominators of violence, sex, and revenge. Understanding this is a film based on a novel, if this film were a novel itself, it would be in a beach bag and forgotten by Labor Day.
If American Hustle is David O. Russell‘s “Martin Scorsese film,” then Gone Girl is David Fincher‘s “Adrian Lyne movie.” With its high gloss, shocking twist, threads of infidelity and revenge, and an overactive sex-drive, this neo-noir wannabe is entertaining fodder, but something better suited to sit atop its cable kin, instead of fighting for multiplex attention.