Gone Girl (2014): Film Review
Gone Girl invites us to witness a vile couple whose love has faded away in this thrilling marital satire by David Fincher. Is marriage paradise or is it a prison?
This review contains spoilers for Gone Girl (2014).
Based on Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name, Gone Girl tells the story of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck, Air), who discovers that his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike, The Wheel of Time) has gone missing on the day of their fifth anniversary. What starts as a strange disappearance soon becomes a media circus where Nick finds himself at the center of the case as the primary suspect of his wife’s kidnapping and potential murder. Things only become stranger when Nick uncovers Amy may have planned the whole thing to frame him, revealing their imperfect marriage in the process.
At its core, Gone Girl is a grim satirical exploration of love and how it deteriorates over time. It starts with the exciting first meeting, followed by the honeymoon phase where everything seems like paradise, then at the sight of complications resentment might settle into a relationship. Because of either money problems, power dynamics, family tragedies, or personal needs, Amy and Nick grow to control and use one another for their own benefit. That initial spark isn’t there anymore, only bitterness and pain remain.
This was not an easy narrative to bring to the screen. Gillian Flynn, who also serves as the screenwriter for this adaptation, tells a very complex story in her book, with lots of in and outs. You have two distinct and strong points of view in Amy and Nick’s characters. It’s a dangerous path to walk because, in the hands of the wrong filmmakers, they could have come across as caricatures. Or worse, an argument could have been formed about the presence of misogynistic elements to how Amy is portrayed compared to Nick, if not executed well.
Nick is a manipulative, almost cowardly husband who doesn’t have earnest feelings for his wife anymore, yet he uses her for financial security. You then have Amy: a calculative and cunning woman who will use others for her own gain and entertainment, even if it means murdering people and ruining lives. That is why you need somebody such as David Fincher at the head of this project. He doesn’t depict this as a battle of the sexes, per se. Instead, he makes it into a battle of the minds between two people who know their partners quite well and used to love each other at some point.
David Fincher’s range as a director is incredibly diverse. He knows when to point out the crazy situations his characters often find themselves in, jumping between tones in one singular narrative, without poking fun at the scripts he’s working with. The Social Network is a great example of this, as it’s just as wildly funny and entertaining as it is somber, horrific, and dramatic. Pairing his sensitivities with those of Flynn’s really do end up serving in favor of the original author’s intentions.
What’s so great about Fincher being at the helm of Gone Girl is that he doesn’t present things as black and white. This could’ve been the Team Nick vs. Team Amy show, and in a sense it is, but it is much more dense than that. Characters never lose their immorality to make one person seem crazier than the other. Fincher is clever to showcase these two individuals aren’t good people. One of them might take the extra step and be capable of murder, but it is done to juxtapose the toxicity of Nick and Amy’s relationship and the lengths to which they push each other.
Gone Girl is, in many ways, the most out there David Fincher project. It starts off as an engaging whodunnit crime drama, it has aspects of horror once Amy’s whereabouts are revealed, and it then becomes a marital satire with a sense of dark humor. Managing all of these distinct tones is not an easy task. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, trying to combine these elements would have resulted in a convoluted mess. Fincher, though, effortlessly pulls off the intimidating job of adapting Gillian Flynn’s intricate story.
That said, this adaptation wouldn’t work as flawlessly as it does if it weren’t for Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike’s back and forth. They are the movie. As you can imagine, due to the relationship at hand, their characters demand so much complexity, personality and contradiction in their actions, and both Affleck and Pike fit those characteristics like a glove.
Ben Affleck has to walk the fine line between being the most hated man in America and a likable narcissist, who you often don’t know if you’re supposed to root for or against. Early on, Nick says he’s dead worried about Amy, yet his decisions and actions, such as having an affair with one of his students, don’t reflect that. His unbothered demeanor towards his wife going missing comes off as odd and performative, which immediately puts doubt over his side of the story. Switching between anger, frustration, determination and confusion, Ben Affleck sells every beat his part calls for.
As for Rosamund Pike, Amy truly is the role of a lifetime. A character that’s so confident in herself, knowing exactly what she wants and how she will get there to achieve her goals. If Affleck is operating at a hundred percent, then Pike is doing twice the work in favor of her performance. Amy could easily be seen as the movie’s villain. She’s a manipulative co-lead who’s psychotic enough to fake her own kidnapping and kill people in order to take revenge on her cheating and abusive husband. Yet, there is a creepy sincerity that Pike brings to Amy’s dissolution with her marriage. Pike delivers some of the most thrilling inner-monologues you’ll see in a modern thriller that’ll have you glued to the screen.
Another point of praise Gone Girl deserves is in its supporting cast. Carrie Coon (The Gilded Age), who plays Nick’s twin sister Margo Dune, serves as not only Nick’s voice of reason, but in a sense she plays the role of the audience. Even though Margo takes her brother’s side, the way Coon reacts to both Amy and Nick’s bizarre actions genuinely helps sell just how awful both of them are in a way that feels organic to the narrative.
Kim Dickens (The Good Nurse) is also a breath of fresh air as Detective Rhonda Boney. Usually in these kinds of films, we see average detectives who either have no idea what they’re doing, or are too snarky about their methods of work. The biggest compliment Dickens can receive for her role here is that she makes Rhonda feel like a real human being. She’s invested in the case, but not in an obsessive way. That role goes to her partner Officer Glipin (Patrick Fugit, Babylon).
Other minor roles that are worth noting include Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Father) as Amy’s toxic ex-boyfriend Desi Collings, and Tyler Perry (Don’t Look Up) as Nick’s lawyer Tanner Bolt. Desi is only here to further drive Amy to her ultimate goal. You never really find out what his true intentions are, if he himself might be dangerous too, but the mystery that Harris brings to his performance elevates what is otherwise a simple role. Perry, on the other hand, delivers his career’s best work. He injects so much personality and levity to a movie that was already oozing with energy before he entered the grand picture.
At the time in 2014, Gone Girl might’ve felt like it’d launch a new era of erotic, psychotic, love thrillers. In reality, it was the last of its kind. Nearly a decade later, it is nice to look back at an age where a $61 million dollar project such as Gone Girl, that feels like a throwback to 90s thrillers, could go on to earn close to $400 million at the global box office. Unfortunately, those types of films aren’t made anymore and if they are, they’re either financial flops or are buried on a streaming service.
There are few modern films that one can call perfect. From David Fincher’s direction to Gillian Flynn’s stellar adaptation of her own story, Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike’s embodiment of their characters, and Jeff Cronenwth’s haunting cinematography, Gone Girl is pitch perfect filmmaking across the board. Some could argue Fincher’s very best work. If you haven’t, make sure you do yourself a favor and experience the oddity that is Gone Girl’s study of marriage, love, animosity, and everything in between. You won’t find a film quite like this in any other place.
Gone Girl is now available to watch on digital and on demand.