Directed by: David Fincher
Premise: A housewife (Rosamund Pike) disappears and her husband (Ben Affleck) becomes a murder suspect but whether he is a murderer or an innocent bystander is unclear.
What Works: Gone Girl is a mystery and a psychological thriller – genres that aren’t seen so often from Hollywood these days – and its filmmakers have created a movie that is as engaging and accomplished as classics like Vertigo and Fatal Attraction but imagined for a contemporary audience. Filmmaker David Fincher is renowned for his attention to detail (a trait of any good director) and that meticulousness is on full display in Gone Girl. This movie has been designed, filmed, and edited together with great economy of filmmaking. The precision is especially apparent in the storytelling. Gone Girl has a complicated plot and the structure of this mystery maximizes the stakes and forces the audience to reconsider their assumptions about the characters and the nature of the drama. The careful filmmaking and calibrated plot is matched by equally precise performances. Actor Ben Affleck has frequently been a target of criticism (sometimes that’s been deserved but not always) but in Gone Girl he gives a very careful and extremely compelling performance as a man who may or may not have killed his wife. Affleck is paired with Rosamund Pike in the role of the wife and Pike gives a tremendous performance. The supporting cast is also very strong, most notably Neil Patrick Harris as a former love of the missing woman and Missi Pyle as the sister to Affleck’s character. The film also features Carrie Coon in a role that is quite obviously a stand-in for crime reporter Nancy Grace and the way Coon and the filmmakers tear into Grace’s histrionic and shameless act is a joy. The careful filmmaking, smart storytelling, and nuanced performances make Gone Girl a compelling story but it’s also a film about something deeper than a murder mystery. This is a film about the way in which we judge others and how our understanding of other people is limited and shaped by our own expectations, by the media, and by our limited interaction. Gone Girl is unsettling for a variety of reasons but ultimately it’s the realization of how little we truly know about other people that makes the deepest impression.
What Doesn’t: The story of Gone Girl makes logical sense the movie frequently stretches its credibility. That’s partly a result of Gone Girl being fundamentally cynical. Gone Girl casts society, the news media, and humanity as capricious and untrustworthy and the radical turns of the plot stem from that point of view. It should also be known that this is a movie that will make some viewers uncomfortable. Like many of David Fincher’s films such as Se7en and Zodiac, this is a movie that deals in the dark side of humanity and it is unsparing in its violence, both physical and psychological. Again, that’s not a fault of the picture but some audiences are going to be upset by it. If there is any one aspect of Gone Girl that really ought to give the viewer pause, it is the regard for domestic violence. This film channels several real life cases, namely the Scott Peterson murder trial, and while the ribbing given to Nancy Grace and her ilk is good fun it is important to remember that violence against women is pervasive and serious. There is an argument to be made that Gone Girl is to domestic violence what Disclosure was to sexual harassment – a fantasy that distorts the reality. But, to be fair, there is no indication that the filmmakers of Gone Girl intended to make a treatise on domestic violence. This picture is about identity and social expectations and it explores those issues with intelligence while telling a compelling story.
Bottom Line: Gone Girl is a terrific film, one of David Fincher’s best—and that is saying something. This picture is tough but it’s beautifully crafted, features great performances, and is unsettling in all the right ways.
Episode: #512 (October 12, 2014)