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What To Watch: Trusting No One in ‘Gone Girl’ (2014)

A second look at this controversial thriller about a woman who disappears.

Gone Girl is a 2014 thriller about the mystery and investigation of a missing wife and the circumstances that led to her disappearance.

Every once in awhile a film comes along that sets the public afire with debate, its themes or outcomes cause for a storm of opinions that lead water cooler diatribes and critical examinations. Pretty much pick any Christopher Nolan film and you get the idea, but there are others out there that trigger such conversations and perhaps none have done more so recently than David Fincher‘s Gone Girl, a wildly talked-about feature that had everyone asking some serious questions. Even a few years later, it’s tricky to decipher.

Based on the novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn, who also wrote the screenplay, the film was a huge box office success and had critics praising the performances and direction. While it toys with expectations and perceptions of women in film, twisting gender types into a messy, often harrowing tale of a girl gone mad it is still careful to portray her husband as a man of little redeeming value, both hollow shells of ideals they believe they should aspire to. It’s wicked stuff that’ll keep you mostly off balance, and that’s the nectar of the gods when it comes to movie making.

Gone Girl
Gone Girl, 2014 © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

THE STORY: It follows the plight of a fellow named Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), a writer and part owner of a modestly popular pub he shares with his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon). He’s married to Amy (Rosamund Pike), also a writer but more well known for being the inspiration of the popular Amazing Amy children’s books, written by her parents. On their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick arrives home to discover Amy has disappeared and there are signs of a struggle in the house. Or so it might seem. What are we to believe?

Police arrive, led by Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens), who immediately suspects something isn’t right, thinking Amy might be murdered, and after an interrogation of Nick, has her and the public thinking he might have done it, his strangely cool behavior and seeming disinterest in the case painting him like a sociopath. We learn through flashbacks that things may have started well for the couple but deteriorated fast. And for very specific reasons. What we also learn, as the story unfolds, is things are not what they seem and there are secrets afoot that will change everything about what we think is happening. Hold onto your butts, cuz there’s a sharp turn at the halfway mark that shifts this movie into full on what the huh?

Gone Girl
Gone Girl, 2014 © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: First, this is a David Fincher film so right away, well, you know it’s got style and atmosphere aplenty, something he does with great effect in so many of his films. There is a rich, palpable tension throughout that gives the already dark story a seedy, almost salacious quality that leave few characters feeling clean. That is the nature of the beast here, that these people are not so rigidly aligned with good versus bad, but teetering ever so smartly on the thin line between. When a movie begins with a lovely-looking couple sitting together, her head in his lap and the voice over starting with him narrating how he wishes he could crack open her skull and see what she’s thinking … well, this ain’t gonna be Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms.

Gone Girl
Gone Girl, 2014 © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

More so, watch Pike, who is at her finest, shape-shifting through the film with awe-inspiring transformations that are spine-tingling to watch. She is the heart … or rather, core of the story, the wedge and the fulcrum by which all things in orbit around her waver. She carries the film from the first frame to the strikingly similar last, lulling us with her beauty and charms and jarring us with everything else. It’s a staggeringly good performance.

A GREAT MOMENT: That’s not to say that Affleck isn’t well cast. Beefed up for his role in the Batman v Superman film, he has a solemn presence that works well in the story, his stoic often emotionless acting style a great fit. Watch him in several key scenes at the police station and then with his sister. There’s terrific nuance here that give Nick Dunne some real depth from a character that appears to be shallow. Say what you will about Affleck, but with this and his performance as Batman, he shuts critics all the hell up.

Gone Girl
Gone Girl, 2014 © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

That said, the best moments come from time spent with Amy and one particular moment is a masterclass in character and story development that is one made with barely a word spoken. To set up the details would greatly spoil much of the story, but suffice to say, there is a time when she is in a home and needs to get out, but doing so is not so easy, the situation delicate and made twisted by a number of setbacks that have altered some carefully arranged plans. What she does to remedy this is nothing short of shocking, and entirely shifts what we think and feel, even as we are still torn about our allegiances and sympathy. You can’t watch it and not feel turned. It’s that good.

THE TALLY: Gone Girl is a film that demands repeat viewings, not so much because you need to fill in clues, though that certainly is there, inherent in the genre, but because there is much you want to see again to help convince yourself of how to feel at the end. Who is the good guy? Who is the bad guy? What would you do? And it’s that last question that haunts the most. Given everything we know, you can’t help but wonder. There’s no easy answer of course, but you’ll wish there were.

Gone Girl
Gone Girl, 2014 © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

While some might find the broad characterization a little too on the nose at first, it would be a mistake to dismiss the film entirely on an initial impression. This story oozes with questions and attempting to answer them is half the fun of seeing it in the first place. The other half? Everything else. Well-directed, expertly-acted and slickly produced and marketed, Gone Girl is a sensational movie experience that challenges viewers and demands conversation. It’s what to watch.

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