WARNING: SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SO MANY SPOILERS DO NOT COMPLAIN TO ME ABOUT SPOILERS
This review is appearing here because all my regular outlets already had people for this film. Shame, since I thought I’d come up with a clever headline. Anyway, I’m loathe to just make a press screening an opportunity to see a movie for free and ahead of its release.
Girl meets boy. Boy is a dream. Boy meets girl. Girl is a dream. Boy and girl fall in love, get married. Boy and girl lose their jobs to the bad economy. Boy and girl move from New York City to Hell (also known as Missouri, properly pronounced “misery”). Girl disappears. Boy looks pretty guilty. Boy turns out to have had a girl on the side. The audience does not like boy. But then it turns out that girl has been tricking us. Girl is not a dream. Girl is a nightmare. Girl knew about the girl on the side. Girl hates boy. Girl punishes boy. Girl gets gone, and makes it look like he made her gone. But girl is in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, watching it all play out on cable news (also Hell) with great relish. So how does boy get girl back now?
Gone Girl is all about the twist. If you know there’s a twist, and are at least somewhat savvy about storytelling tropes, then you can probably guess what it is. And it’s only after the twist that this movie really comes alive. You can sense that David Fincher signed on as a director solely for all that comes after the twist. The first half of the film is kind of rote, especially if you’ve read the book. The way the movie is written, it’s necessary, because it has to make you think it’s about one thing before it turns out to be something completely different. But, while as well-shot and acted as the rest, the heart just isn’t in the pre-twist film.
Gone Girl looks like a crime thriller, but it’s not. It’s a monster movie. Its monster is Amy Elliot Dunne, whose name is usually referred to in public like that, in full. The same way serial killers and assassins are known by all three names, even though no one save a few characters understands Amy’s true nature. She is a terrifying beast from damnation, a meticulous, exacting plotter with an uncanny ability to predict human behavior. For most of the film, every other character is a puppet dancing on her strings (she even winks to this with her anniversary “gift” to Nick: a set of Punch and Judy dolls). She’s Lisbeth Salander and Mark Zuckerberg rolled into one, a ruthless sociopath who’s always thinking a hundred steps ahead of everyone else in the room.
Amy is Woman as feared by so many men. It’s not just that she frames multiple men for rape, abduction, and/or murder, it’s that she does so as a massively disproportionate retribution for their failings towards her. Her college boyfriend tried to give her the fade away when she wanted to change him to her liking, and she responded by getting him put on the sex offender registry. Nick cheated on her and she frames him for murder. Near the end of the movie, Amy’s husband Nick’s lawyer, Tanner Bolt (a delightful Tyler Perry — expect to read many racist people asking why he’s “never been this good before”), bemusedly states that “she’s perfect… just don’t piss her off.” The perfect partner, until you step out of line. Gone Girl is in part a meditation on marriage, and Amy maintains that marriage is two people tormenting each other to fill their own needs. My friend Chris already said this, but this film is God’s gift to MRA’s everywhere.
Whether they’ll be as in the wrong as the fratbros who love Fight Club are is a subject for debate. But Gone Girl does a very good job of separating itself from reality, spiraling more and more into insanity as Nick tries to fight through the mess of traps Amy has set for him, while Amy gets up to her own shenanigans living incognito. The absurdity isn’t just acknowledged but embraced. Fincher knows the inherent comedic value of a reaction shot of a cat, which is used many times to deflate procedural seriousness. Perry is a blessing, finding every new twist ever so entertaining. And Ben Affleck settles into a wonderful groove of defeatedly absorbing each new blow.
Affleck in general is a delight. Many have already written how the role utilizes his natural smarminess as an asset. We’re not supposed to be sure if we can trust Nick, and who could trust that too-perfect jaw? But the movie belongs completely and utterly to Rosamund Pike, which is especially impressive considering that she’s playing a fiction for its first half. She’s lowkey devious, and masterfully plays the coldness against her slipups and her calculations. Pike is playing the kind of character who’s almost always acting, so she’s doing two performances at once. Oscars Oscars Oscars blah blah blah who cares about that, she’s a crackerjack baddie.
In general, this is a perfectly-cast flick. Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens are as great and solid as anyone familiar with them from their television work knows them to be. Missi Pyle is terrifying as not-Nancy-Grace. Patrick Fugit, having filled out his scrawny frame, is more convincing as a cop than I thought he could be. Neil Patrick Harris makes the most of limited screen time to play a pitch-perfect dark parody of “The Nice Guy” (and he shows his butt, fanboys and girls… which is later drenched in his blood as he’s horrifically murdered, but still). The movie even uses Emily Ratajkowski’s blankness to its advantage.
Gone Girl‘s is a mean, blackhearted story, so it was perfectly suited to David Fincher’s cold-as-Hell (Hell is cold, not hot. Except Missouri. That place can get hot) sensibility. And this is a cold movie: muted colors, chill tones, a languid but eerie score, still cinematography, patient editing. It stands back and lets Gillian Flynn’s script (adapted from her own book) and the performances do their zany work. It’s a larff, even if you have to work through some dullness to get there. I couldn’t love the whole as much as the parts, but it’s an appreciably nasty ride.