Please please please note that the entirety of this review will be absolutely packed with spoilers. If you don’t want to find out the twists before seeing the film (which I thoroughly recommend), please come back after you have seen Gone Girl. Still here? Let’s get into it then:
Miracle on the Mississippi.
Gone Girl tells the story of Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike) Dunne, a seemingly normal couple who recently relocated to Mississippi after leaving New York City. Nick returns home one day to find Amy gone, the house in ruins, and his life in tatters. The media and police have a suspicion that Nick is responsible for his wife’s disappearance, but as we soon find out, that is as far from the truth as possible. In fact, Amy planned her entire disappearance, faked financial troubles, lied about being pregnant and even accused Nick of domestic abuse after he was caught with another woman. It comes to fruition that Amy is in fact a complete psychopath, her mind plagued with paranoia and a life in tatters after her parents used her childhood as the basis for their successful Amazing Amy novels. However, only Nick and a few other confidants know about Amy’s plot, so together they have to unearth the truth and bring justice to one of the most dangerous women out there.
Straight off the bat, I thought the plot of Gone Girl was fantastic. If you know me or have read any of my previous reviews, you will know that my weak spot is a great, convincing and challenging story with a sprinkling of character development, which Gone Girl has in abundance. I hadn’t read all of the book that this is based on, by Gillian Flynn – who also wrote the screenplay – but I did read some of it, luckily not to the point of Amy’s big twist. There has been an ongoing debate about whether or not you should read the book before seeing this film, and personally I would recommend going into Gone Girl as blank as possible, avoiding even trailers if able, because you will be right where director David Fincher wants you to be, and you will be totally caught off-guard after every one of Gone Girl‘s intriguing twists. The story definitely takes an unexpected turn around the halfway mark, and Gone Girl arguably creates its own genre because its different, distinctive segments could all fit into separate categories. The first half an hour or so had me convinced that I was in for a very romantic film, whereas after that it took a very dark and twisted turn, something more typical of Fincher.
As I said, I’m a sucker for character development, and Gone Girl was rife with it. Characters begin to resemble something they seemingly detest; Nick’s views of women change throughout to the point that he is not far off his father, who feels utterly used by all women, and has no respect, and if the story had been taken one notch further, I wouldn’t be surprised if Nick had turned fully down that route. But of course, the most obvious change in characters is from Amy. Judging from her innocent and sweet diary entries in the flashbacks at the beginning, I truly believed that she was besotted by Nick, but when her real side is shown, Pike’s performance changes entirely. Amy can go from being a loving, doting wife to a murderous psycho in the blink of an eye, and the versatility and flexibility of her character, and subsequently performance definitely adds a layer of intrigue to the plot.
As mentioned, performances here were also, for the most part, incredible. Ben Affleck is utterly spectacular as Nick Dunne, a man who is clearly very feckless and submissive to begin with is twisted and mangled by the deceit of Amy to become almost as cold and calculating as she is. Affleck’s performance here makes me very excited to see his turn as Batman, because this proves that he can pull off a character that is emotionally destroyed because of the actions of others, and although he received a lot of hate after being chosen as Batman, this makes me think he will knock it out the park. However, the standout performer is of course Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne. Known previously for her roles in Pride and Prejudice and Johnny English Reborn, Gone Girl proves that Pike is a huge contender in the film industry, and that she can portray an innocent woman at one moment, yet absolutely psychopathic woman at another. In an era where female villains are dying out, Pike stands out from the rest of 2014’s performances, not necessarily because it was the best, but because it was unique and utterly gripping, from the first scene to the last scene, almost identical shot-wise and script-wise, but polar opposites thematically. Also surprisingly good was Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin sister Margo, and for a first-time cinema actress, she was absolutely fantastic. Her performance was incredibly versatile; from the humourous teasing of Nick in the film’s opening to her full-blown meltdown regarding Nick’s decision to stay with Amy as the film closes. Tyler Perry was very good as world-class lawyer Tanner Bolt, although it was my first Perry film, so I can’t comment on it too much.
However, I wasn’t as much of a fan of Neil Patrick Harris’ performance as Desi Collings, an ex-boyfriend of Amy’s who ultimately bites the bullet by being used as a pawn in Amy’s twisted game. He never really settles into the role, and I never bought that he was as creepy as made out to be from the exposition of the film. Maybe this was down to my poor interpretation of the trailers, but I thought he was going to be a kind of stalker, not a wealthy, well-groomed man, arguably with good intentions. The film never dedicates enough time to seeing Desi grow as a character, and almost as soon as we get to know him when he lets Amy stay in his house is he brutally killed off in one of Gone Girl‘s most gruesome scenes. If he was given more time to develop, I would’ve grown more attached to the character, but Neil Patrick Harris’ portrayal of Desi left me wanting more.
From a technical standpoint, Gone Girl is one of the best films of 2014. Helmed by legendary director David Fincher, it has all techniques that are quintessentially Fincher sprinkled throughout, from the generally bleak, hopeless and depressing tone of the film itself to the sharp cuts between shots to the smooth panning shots that reveal more about a supposedly inconspicuous scene. I was also a big fan of the soundtrack, which ranged from a very typical Fincher score for most parts into a very techno, distressing and overpowering blaze of sound at points of heightened tension, which added to the atmosphere of the film. The music makes the film very unnerving, and maybe not so much on my second viewing, but the first time around I was glued to the edge of my seat, and also to the screen.
I only really began to pick up on the underlying theme of Gone Girl upon my second viewing, but I do believe it to be very prevalent. The recurring idea and message of Gone Girl is being unable to trust nobody, and this is shown very frequently. Most obviously, Nick and Amy are unable to trust each other, keeping huge secrets and betraying each other to the highest degree throughout. Amy is unable to trust anyone she meets along her descent into madness: not her parents, because they “plagiarized her childhood” to write the Amazing Amy books, not Greta or Jeff from the village she lodged at, because they stole her money and left her alone and helpless, not Desi, because all she did was lie and twist the truth so she could manipulate him for a place to stay and a way to get back at Nick. But this theme is also applicable to real life: being unable to trust the media. In Gone Girl, the standpoints of several news channels are made very clear and shown very frequently. Their opinions are very different throughout: at the start, Nick is seen as a monster – grinning at a press conference for his missing wife – to the point that he is even accused of partaking in incest with his own sister – but by the film’s end he is shown as a very brave man, but there was no apology in sight for ruining the reputation of a mostly (extramarital affair aside) innocent man. Fincher is trying to say that the news will pump out anything if they can stir up some controversy, and that not really anyone can be trusted; you have to learn to fend for yourself in this world, something which Amy clearly can’t do, leading to her returning helplessly to Nick.
Talking about Amy’s return, the last half an hour of Gone Girl have been either widely panned or widely praised. On my first viewing, I thought the ending was ridiculous: surely there was no way Nick would ever stay with Amy, surely the police would’ve arrested Amy for Desi’s murder, and surely Detective Boney would’ve picked up further on the inconsistencies of Amy’s alibi? Yes, all of these opinions are incredibly valid, but at the end of the day, Nick, and in fact the police force, are left with no other choice. Amy makes it clear to Nick that she will ruin him if he ever tries to leave, and with the news of a baby on the way, it would be wholly irresponsible of Nick to leave his offspring in the hands of a complete maniac. The police would’ve had to give up on the case, because Amy would argue that she was acting out of self-defence, and Rhonda Boney made her arc very clear: she goes where the police go. Yes, the ending is quite dissatisfying and closure would’ve been great for such a solid film, but the character’s decisions are logical and the only option in the twisted world of Gone Girl.
On the other hand, I wasn’t in love with everything about Gone Girl. I would’ve like a few more flashbacks to the blossoming relationship between Nick and Amy, because it feels a bit rushed, and the eventual twist may have had a bit more bite if we knew more about their love. My other gripe, which I’m hoping some of you might be able to explain, is to do with Amy’s motivations. Amy says that she begins to cripple Nick’s life by framing him after he is caught kissing Andie (Emily Ratajkowski), and that the Amy that Nick fell in love with was never real, but I pose the question: was Amy this way, resentful and twisted, when they first met, and was it always Amy’s plan to frame Nick, or did this just begin as a result of his affair? If it did just begin because of the affair, who was Amy pretending to be before this happened? Did Amy ever really love Nick, and if not, why did she marry him? That’s the only bit that I still don’t really get, but I’m sure someone out there will leave a comment and clear this up for me.
Overall, I thought Gone Girl was terrific. The story was brilliant, performances were outstanding from the majority, the direction from David Fincher was masterful, and the film raised some really interesting points about media manipulation and trust between people. It’s not quite as good the second time around, because the twists pack far less of a punch, but if you like your stories deep and dark, your performances believable and powerful, and are willing to be taken on a ride, I couldn’t recommend Gone Girl enough.
I give Gone Girl 9 out of 10.
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