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Gone Girl | Review

Screens From a Marriage: Fincher Makes Pulpy Lemonade

Gone Girl David Fincher PosterUndoubtedly one of 2014’s most anticipated titles, David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestseller, Gone Girl finds the filmmaker once more dipping into the realm of pulpy beatitude, following the auteur’s last feature, 2011’s rehash of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Sure to entice fans of the source novel, Fincher’s mesmerizing exercise contends to examine the mechanisms that support the notion of coupledom and marriage, revealing the underbelly that lurks behind the personas we present to polite society when ripped apart by sensationalism, here in the arena of frenzied media. Part satire, mystery, thriller, and character study, it’s a potent mix of rhythms rather precisely patterned by Fincher. Taut and surprisingly funny in its grim certainties about the parts of love and courtship not whispered about in songs or poetry, you’ll skate through its extensive running time of two and half hours.

Opening on Nick and Amy Dunne’s (Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike) fifth wedding anniversary on the morning of July 5th, 2012, we quickly guess that the day is destined to be a somber one. In the sleepy town of North Carthage, Missouri, they’re perched in a picturesque, suburban home, the kind that seems to breed unrest in its pristine confines. Sure enough, one of Nick’s first stops that day is to the The Bar, an establishment he owns with his sister Margo (Carrie Coon). Their conversation reveals that for the past year, life hasn’t been great for Nick and Amy. Returning home, Nick discovers that Amy isn’t there and it looks as if an intruder has smashed a glass table in the living area. An intrigued Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and a suspicious police officer (Patrick Fugit) arrive on the scene. It appears to be a kidnapping. Search parties are assembled, Amy’s wealthy parents are flown in and slowly but surely, a path of clues reveals that Nick may have murdered his wife.

Distance from the original source novel may enhance your reaction to the film, as it is reportedly not far removed, hardly a surprise since Flynn adapted the screenplay (and really, if you’ve abstained this far, the less you read about the film prior to seeing it, the better). A twisty, nervy smirk of a film, it’s most notable elements are the surprisingly great performances from both Pike and Affleck. Pike’s long been a familiar face floating around in a variety of films, but it is Gone Girl that will significantly elevate her reputation. A classically beautiful face that makes her seem wise beyond her years, her Amy Dunne gives a new spin on the ‘hell hath no fury like a woman’s scorn’ adage. Like an evil Rosalind Russell, Pike dominates the film (their respective careers in journalism makes this the flipside of Hawks’ His Girl Friday), but to say much more about her would potentially reveal too much.

As the publicly maligned spouse, Affleck manages to be quite affable (the specter of Jennifer Lopez may come to mind here) as a man stuck in the middle of media firestorm. Supporting characters are also generally top notch, specifically a bemused detective played by Kim Dickens, and an effective Tyler Perry as a prolific criminal lawyer. Others, such as Carrie Coon as Affleck’s sister and Patrick Fugit as Dickens’ partner, seem a bit too broadly used for comic relief. More successful in this realm is Missi Pyle as the talking head pundit hell-bent on ripping Affleck’s character to shreds, mostly viewed in snippets on television screens.

While it recalls a host of notable real-life media sensations (Scott and Lacey Peterson, for instance), Fincher’s Gone Girl is really an exaggerated spectacle of much more, a sordid examination of the games we play in our intimate interactions with one another, the masks and disguises used to create better personas of ourselves when trying to land (or trap, perhaps) a mate. The film is reminiscent of a period of pulpy filmmaking gone by, something you’d have seen Hitchcock or De Palma glom onto.

Gone Girl is a cheap but potent elixir dressed up in Fincher’s champagne flute, and despite all its frills and thrills, it’s really a lesson in how important it is to remember the persona you used when you found your significant other. Because, inevitably, what happens between two people will mutate and gnarl, and while one can’t reset to zero, one has to remember what it used to look like.

★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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