Reviewing the Movies of 2014, Part XIII: Gone Girl
Be careful what you wish for...
Easily one of the most anticipated movies of the fall season was an adaptation of the bestselling novel by Gillian Flynn--written by Flynn herself and helmed by acclaimed director David Fincher--the Ben Affleck/ Rosamund Pike-starring Gone Girl. And it was pretty big at the box office, one of the few pretty solid hits of 2014; the awards race was also fairly kind, with a slew of nominations and wins for Pike and Flynn, and a good number of other nods. And yet, somehow, as Oscar season really got underway the film kind of fell off the radar; Pike's Best Actress nod is its sole Academy nomination, and she is considered a longshot to win. This is particularly puzzling since practically all of Fincher's good films (apparently, Zodiac and The Game were overlooked entirely) have been nominated for at least one technical award by Oscar, and indeed his two indisputed classics (Se7en and Fight Club) each ONLY had a single technical nod. At least the talented Pike got her first nod, at any rate. Anyway, this is a tremendously twisty movie, with all sorts of nasty surprises, and is a crash course in the "Be careful what you wish for" school of life. Nick and Amy Dunn are extremely layered individuals, and some of those layers ain't so pretty. But then, chances are you already know that. So, let's have a look at one of this year's darkest, strangest, most effective thrillers, Gone Girl.
David Fincher is a master of psychological thrillers that mess with your head and play with your perceptions. Se7en and Fight Club did this beautifully, Zodiac, The Game, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and even his generally ignored Panic Room all did this effectively as well. Gone Girl is a fine entry into this long and glorious tradition. There is an equivalent of the final-act twist in Fight Club which happens less than halfway through the film, and which is turned back on, and turned back again, before the movie is over. Indeed, it is difficult to give a proper review of the film, since much of the fun could be sucked out of it by ill-considered spoilers. So, I will try my best to keep spoilers to a minimum, while also giving some hints as to why this is an enjoyable film well worth viewing. Part of that has to do with the behind-the-camera work. Fincher's movies typically have stable camerawork and use cool tones much of the time; this film seemed to me to use more warm tones than has been the case lately, giving a bit of a nod to Se7en and Fight Club visually. Also, his films are very well-edited, make judicious use of vaguely European scores (his go-to composer for the past few films has been Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor), and tend to be rather "cool" in tone and appearance. This works for the story being presented here, since Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) both have vast seas of secrets beneath their relatively calm facades, and it makes sense for a film about such people to take a similar approach. Of course, the actors also make it work. Most of the film's actors do a fine job, and some even do an excellent job. Affleck gives one of his better performances; I am not an Affleck-hater as so many are, but while I'll admit the man's range could be greater, here he is perfectly convincing as a wounded man increasingly dealing with rage over being manipulated and manhandled, in ways he never could have imagined before. Tyler Perry also has his detractors, but does a fine job as celebrity lawyer Tanner Bolt, who (apparently) fully buys into Nick's innocence, and works hard on his behalf. The always reliable Neil Patrick Harris plays a darker role than usual for him, as a former paramour of Amy's who may or may not have been stalking her for years. Relative newcomer Carrie Coon plays Nick's twin sister Margo, and does a wonderful job; I think she could even have been an Oscar nominee for the role, and as it is she did pick up four solo nominations and two ensemble nods from various critics' organizations. Of course, the star of the show is talented British actress Rosamund Pike, who has had a few high-profile roles previously but who still managed to come out of nowhere to a lot of people with her portrayal of a calculating, scheming, cold-blooded con artist that the public absolutely adores. She does a hell of a job playing one of the more intriguing characters of the year, and she really makes you feel for Ben Affleck's character in a film where he plays a bit of a douche--that's no mean feat. Anyway, I again warn my readers that there will be some minor spoilers in my review. I will try to limit them, but proceed with caution.
On the morning of July the 5th, Nick Dunne leaves his wife at home to go to his favorite spot at the beach before going to visit his sister at The Bar, a watering hole they both own. He lets her know it's his and Amy's anniversary, and that he's not entirely feeling it. He then goes home to find his front door open and his cat (apparently an indoor cat) waiting to greet him outside; there is an overturned and broken coffee table in one of the downstairs rooms, and Amy is nowhere to be found. Puzzled and mildly concerned, he calls the police to report a break-in. The detective who comes calling, Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens), and her fellow officer James Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) both suspect that something is "off" about the scene, and quickly file a missing persons report for Amy. Before long, Nick finds finds himself at the center of a media frenzy, one which increasingly threatens to engulf him and send him "up the river," as more and more people become convinced that Amy is dead and that Nick killed her. And just as the shoe is about to drop... the story switches perspective, and things gets really interesting. This is definitely a good film for people who love mind games, let's just say that. This becomes particularly true by the end of the film; I give the film props for going places many others wouldn't, and with style. Maybe this has to do with the adaptation being by the original author (a rare case of this succeeding), maybe it has to do with Fincher's style, maybe it's Amy Dunne's magnetic charm that gets you to not fully hate her even once you know what she really is; likely it's all of the above. Anyway, this is not a film for the faint of heart, but then neither were Se7en and Fight Club.
Gone Girl 8.5/10 Oscar-worthy for Best Director (David Fincher), Actress (Rosamund Pike), Supporting Actress (Carrie Coon), Adapted Screenplay (Gillian Flynn), Cinematography, Production Design, Makeup, Film Editing, Sound Mixing and Sound Effects Editing; arguably so for Best Picture, Actor (Ben Affleck), Supporting Actor (Neil Patrick Harris), Costume Design and Original Score (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross). Nominated for Best Actress (Rosamund Pike).
Will purchase? Definitely, though it may be a minute. I'll bet this is a film worth rewatching, though, to see what hints to the twists may have been missed before, and to see how that affects the overall experience.
It took way too long for me to finally see Gone Girl, but I have to say it was worth the wait. This may not be my highest-ranking film of the year, and indeed I had hoped it would rate higher, but most of David Fincher's films that I've seen more than once improved on repeat viewing, and this definitely looks like a film I'm going to enjoy for some time to come. Definitely give this one a look if you're in the market for a dark and twisted thriller. In the meantime, as I try to knock out the last one or two Oscar nominees I'll get to see before the show, I wish you happy viewing!