While it’s difficult to review a movie as a separate entity when the source material is still fresh in your mind, it’s even more difficult when the very things you might wish to criticize are certain plot developments that could conceivably be perceived as spoilers—thus unintentionally ruining the film for prospective viewers unfamiliar with the twists and turns of Flynn’s generally faithful screenplay.
Gone Girl preserves many of the strengths of Flynn’s novel. The plot centers around Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), who returns home on his fifth anniversary to find that his wife (Rosamund Pike) is missing—and there is evidence to suggest she may possibly be dead. A sympathetic police detective Boney (an excellent Kim Dickens) leads the investigation, accompanied by her not as accepting partner Officer Gilpin (Patrick Fugit). Through flashbacks, both from Nick’s point of view, as well as Amy’s (courtesy of her journal), the viewer sees a marriage in disrepair, and that Flynn’s real concerns go beyond the traditional thriller structure. Amy and Nick’s marriage has been running on fumes; the romance is long gone, only despair and distrust remain. Their idyllic existence among the sophisticates in New York has given way to the savage realities of today’s economy, as both of them have lost their jobs and have been forced by circumstances to move back to Nick’s hometown in Missouri. The scavenger hunt that Amy forces Nick to play every year has now become a record of Nick’s shortcomings. They have long since stopped having meaningful conversations, including any discussion about whether they should move or not; Nick has made that decision without consulting Amy—much to her eternal dismay.
In broad strokes, Flynn and Fincher create an environment where nothing is what it seems: not Nick, who has his own secrets; not Amy, who has qualities heretofore unknown to her occasionally obtuse husband (as reservoirs of bitterness flood over her journals); not the townspeople who show their support on Sunday and are quick to turn against Nick on Monday. The only one who has any kind of consistent faith in Nick is his twin sister (Carrie Coon, superb). Filmmakers and writers alike have long criticized the fickle, savage nature of the mob mentality, and now with the prevalence of social media and twenty-four hour partisan newscasts, Flynn and Fincher have cast their satirical net a little wider, and the results are effective, if a little obvious (especially since real-life “newscasts” have become virtual parodies themselves). At its best, the movie is brimming with dark humor amidst a pervasive sense of unease and suspicion—all enhanced by Trent Reznor’s haunting score.
The problems with Gone Girl come in the final quarter, as certain plot twists become too difficult to accept, based on our understanding of the characters. Heretofore intelligent characters behave rather stupidly, other characters develop a rather cold-blooded streak, and the final scenes seem to be the result of an author who has written herself into a corner and would like to dodge the traditional thriller route, but finds herself without a convincing, coherent, credible conclusion. While people do behave in an implausible (dare I say incredible) manner in thrillers all the time, the characters should possess at least a modicum (perhaps a scintilla) of plausibility—especially when some presumably meaningful insights about society, marriage and relationships are incorporated within the course of the work.
Fincher and Flynn are fortunate to have a good cast at their disposal. Besides the afore-mentioned Dickens and Coon, Tyler Perry does some of his best work as a slick defense attorney who specializes in cases like Affleck’s, while Neil Patrick Harris is sympathetic in an oddly underdeveloped role as one of Amy’s “admirers.” Rosamund Pike makes for a satisfactory Amy, until the plot demands take their toll; in the end however, it’s Ben Affleck who holds the movie together. As Nick, Affleck conveys a bewildered everyman demeanor that maintains the viewer’s sympathy even as events (and poor choices) conspire against him. Fincher and Flynn are indeed lucky to have Affleck at the center of a generally engrossing film that keeps one interested even if it doesn’t quite hold together in the end.