Gone Girl (2014)
Warning: This review contains major spoilers!
David Fincher’s Gone Girl was a hit with audiences and critics while also exceeding the expectations of fans of the original novel by Gillian Flynn. The story of a seemingly happy couple (Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike) who find their marriage falling apart in the most horrible way possible, Gone Girl also stars Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris, and Emily “the ‘Blurred Lines’ chick” Ratajkowski. The film is a tightly and tensely wound mystery thriller that still provides plenty of laughs and satire. However, the single most shocking aspect of the movie is that Tyler Perry gives a great performance.
The film begins as Nick Dunne (Affleck) returns home in the morning to find the front door open, a glass coffee table overturned, plus traces of blood in the kitchen. His wife Amy (Pike) has gone missing on their fifth anniversary. He calls the police, and makes it clear that he wants to help in any way possible.
The lead detective recognizes Amy as the model for “The Amazing Amy”, star of a widely popular children’s book series created by Amy’s parents. As the police investigate, we hear entries from Amy’s diary, and a series of flashbacks portray Nick and Amy’s early relationship as one full of romance and instant sparks. They make it through a recession, temporary unemployment, a cross-country move, and a death in the family. However, as these flashbacks continue, they show Nick as an increasingly ill-tempered and menacing husband. Amy’s final diary entries confirm that she was becoming more and more frightened of him.
This is all intercut with the action in the present, where Amy’s parents and Nick host a fundraiser to help find Amy. Nick’s first mistake comes when he smiles glibly for the media in front of her “missing” poster. Tabloid journalists quickly jump on his error, and the accusations that he murdered his wife begin to fly fast and furious, spurred on in particular by a Nancy Grace-like news anchor (Missi Pyle). Things only get worse when Nick is caught in a selfie with a young, attractive female fan.
As the town and media begin to turn on Nick, the police eventually discover Amy’s diary with all the passages detailing Nick’s abuses, plus her desire to buy a gun for her own safety. They also determine a motive: Nick had amassed huge credit card debts, and also increased the amount of Amy’s life insurance policy shortly before she disappeared. Most damning of all, it’s revealed that Amy was pregnant and that Nick’s been having an affair with one of his students (Ratajkowski). Which is when we discover that nothing is what it seems.
Cut to Amy in the present, still alive and on the run. In a detailed voiceover, she describes how she faked her own death and planned this entire ordeal to get back at her husband for cheating on her. She spent a year painstakingly thinking of every detail in framing him, including creating a fake diary, faking a pregnancy, racking up huge amounts of debt on Nick’s credit cards, tricking him into upping her life insurance policy, and filling up a plastic vat with her own blood to smear all over the kitchen floor. Her plan is to hide out and eventually kill herself so that Nick will get the death penalty.
Meanwhile, Nick discovers a woodshed full of all the stuff Amy bought with his credit cards, and quickly figures out that she’s trying to frame him. That’s when he hires famed “wife killer” lawyer Tanner Bolt (Perry) to represent him.
Meanwhile, Amy disguises herself and hides out at a campground, pretending to be a battered wife trying to escape from her abusive husband. She gets wrapped up in watching news coverage of her own disappearance, and predictably calls off the whole “suicide” portion of her master plan. But then she gets befriended by two locals who figure out she’s got loads of cash tucked away, and they rob her of everything she’s got.
Now broke and homeless, Amy seeks help from her ex-lover Desi (Harris), who we earlier learned had stalked her and even tried to kill himself when she broke up with him. She tells him that she had to fake her death to escape Nick’s abuses, and he allows her to stay in his luxurious home for as long as she likes. But then Amy watches one of Nick’s TV interviews, where under Tanner Bolt’s guidance, he sends out obvious signals that he knows Amy is still alive and framing him, and he just wants her to come home.
Unfortunately, Nick lets slip a clue which gives the police cause to search the woodshed and find all that expensive merchandise, and Nick is quickly arrested for Amy’s murder. Meanwhile, Amy decides she belongs with Nick after all, so she kills Desi, brutally slashing his throat in a hilariously gory and violent scene, and then returns home all covered in blood.
She pretends that Desi kidnapped her and held her prisoner, and with that, the case against Nick is dropped. Nick is horrified, and says he wants nothing to do with her once the media furor dies down. But then Amy reveals she’s pregnant for real, meaning Nick is stuck with this psychopathic monster for at least the next 18 years.
Nearly everything in Gone Girl is good, if not great. There are so many expertly crafted aspects that it’s easy to overlook the slick editing, the masterful score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, or the pitch-perfect framing in every shot. Each actor gives their best performance to date, with Affleck showing a previously unseen self-awareness and self-deprecation, and Oscar-nominated Pike gives a crazy but not over-the-top turn as a true psychopath. However, the biggest surprise is Tyler Perry’s role as a smooth talking lawyer. His character provides some of the film’s greatest laughs, and they mostly work due to his deadpan timing and subtle mannerisms.
Just like Fincher’s own Fight Club, Gone Girl makes full use of the unreliable narrator trope. The sequence where the big twist is revealed, as Amy outlines her intricate, Machiavellian plan in a voiceover full of pure misanthropic bile is worth the price of admission all on its own. Though, it likely would have worked better if it hadn’t been foreshadowed quite as much. Even in Amy’s bogus diary entries, she comes off as cold and calculating, while it’s my understanding the book portrays her as more warm and loving, making the reveal an even bigger shock.
Also, at no point do we think Nick really murdered his wife. From the very start, particularly when we see Nick looking around his house confused in the aftermath of Amy’s disappearance (which he does alone, so we know he’s not just doing it to keep up the appearance of innocence), it’s clear that there’s no way he killed her. It feels like the big reversal would have been more effective if the movie’s central mystery had more, well, mystery.
Flynn’s dialogue is often refreshingly to-the-point, but it does occasionally stray into wacky, pop culture-referential Juno territory. This includes the detective saying “W… T… F?” and a sequence early on in the film praising the qualities of Belgian beer. I was half-expecting Amy to answer a burger phone and report that she was totally preggos.
Regardless, the movie is still a scathing and darkly funny indictment of marriage, in particular the way people will pretend to be something they’re not to please their spouses, and how a lot of married couples don’t really communicate and instead try to subtly manipulate each other to their own ends. Of course, the joy is in how the film takes all of these banal truths to ridiculous extremes. After Amy returns home, Nick can’t comprehend why she wants to stay married, because all they ever did was try to control each other and cause each other pain. “That’s marriage,” Amy sharply replies.
Gone Girl is undeniably captivating, and one of 2014’s best films. The first viewing is a manipulative ride that’s more exciting than anything in recent memory. Subsequent viewings reveal just how nuanced the film really is, and the pleasure it takes in deconstructing marriage and the media is even more apparent the second time around. While it’s not Fincher’s best, it is a great piece of pop entertainment that’s expertly made and full of biting social commentary.