Gone Girl: Less Than Meets the Eye

Gone Girl, much like its characters, puts on a false front. It has all the trappings of a sleek psychological thriller and the heart of a confused dark comedy. If you believe deeply in the hellishness of marriage, or suburbia, it might hit close to home. But for the lucky few who don’t, this movie offers little more than a twisted, and sometimes fun, ride into absurdity.

Director David Fincher plays up the suspense in the first hour of the movie’s runtime, which presents a mystery that anyone with a TV will find all too familiar. Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), an unhappily mediocre suburban bar owner, comes under fire by the media and the public when his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) disappears under suspicious circumstances. Stumbling, frustrated, and affable to a fault, Affleck balances his character on an unnerving line between sociopathic and sympathetic. As we question Nick’s every word, interspersed excerpts from Amy’s diary guide us in flashback through the charming beginnings and subsequent disintegration of their relationship.

A cold color scheme, an eerie score by Trent Reznor, and the frequent stutter of camera flashes amp up the tension. Humor emerges in Nick’s awkward interactions with the police, including wry lead detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens), but these moments don’t undermine the sense of danger underneath the surface. Consumerism and economic decline, modern America’s twin demons, circle the Dunnes’ beige McMansion. In one on-the-nose scene, the detectives descend into a decaying, abandoned shopping mall to question a drug dealer. Even the more restrained settings of the police station and suburban houses appear washed out and impersonal.

Then—and I won’t give too much away—the procedural ends, at least from the audience’s perspective. We know who did it, and how they did it, and the rest of the film just shows us the ongoing disaster of its characters’ lives. Their lies and machinations approach farcical proportions, punctuated by some truly vicious and brutal acts. Those final one and a half hours shoot for the gut, not the brain. The tonal whiplash from scene to scene may be just as nauseating as Fincher’s characteristically stylized violence. Gone Girl ultimately refuses to give us a likeable hero or a neat solution, but don’t mistake its cynicism for depth. Its voyeuristic and sardonic look into calculating minds would fit perfectly in the pulpiest of noir fiction.

I admit, I haven’t read the book. Bestselling author Gillian Flynn adapted her own novel for the screen, and I appreciated her sharp and often funny dialog. At certain key points, however, the screenplay relies too heavily on language. I felt shocked for all the wrong reasons when the story executed its first real turn through a ten-minute-long voiceover.

Despite that questionable choice, the film rarely drags. There is little to criticize about its technical aspects, and it is bolstered by strong performances across the board. Pike, in particular, successfully takes on a very demanding role, while Carrie Coon adds a much-needed human note as Nick’s sister Margo Dunne.

When the credits rolled at the theater I visited, the couple sitting next to me burst out laughing. Not everybody will find Gone Girl so amusing, but don’t sit down to watch it expecting a realistic examination of married life or a coherent and tight crime story. You’re most likely to enjoy this movie if you take your comedy black, bitter, and not especially healthy.

Grade: B   Not for the weak of stomach, Gone Girl is a stylish but shallow thriller with a heavy dose of dark humor.