Gone Girl (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★
Based on the novel and screenplay by Gillian Flynn, “Gone Girl” is a mystery-thriller that gets under the skin and into the bone, at times tickling the brain with its twists and turns alongside occasionally amusing one-liners, which makes the two-hour-and-thirty-minute peek into the lives of a suburban Missourian couple worthwhile. It is like watching a “Best Of” episodes of Marc Cherry’s “Desperate Housewives” only the film is directed by David Fincher which means darker elements are amplified and the ironic touches concentrated.
But the film is let down a bit by its unusual and ultimately ineffective casting of some supporting players. Neil Patrick Harris sticks out like a sore thumb as a former flame of Amy (Rosamund Pike) who may or may not have something to do with her sudden disappearance. Although Harris attempts a mix of danger, desperation, and coy—as if his character were in on some joke—I found his interpretation of the character to be quite distracting. Because there is a lack of an effective marriage between the performer and his character, just about every time he is on screen, I felt as though I was on the outside looking in rather than being cocooned in an increasingly complex and suffocating mystery.
Another misstep in terms of casting is Casey Wilson as the self-reported best friend of the woman who has gone missing. Although she is on screen fewer times than Harris, her interpretation of the character gives the impression that Noelle is supposed to be on a set of a comedy television show but somehow has gotten lost and ended up here. Granted, Noelle is, in part, supposed to be the “village idiot” but wouldn’t it have been more interesting if the character was written dumb but played smart? Contradiction, after all, is what makes the film function on a cerebral and, to an extent, a visceral level.
Fincher allows the mystery to unspool without the expected red herrings that usually come with the mystery-thriller genre. Instead, he employs his not unfamiliar signature of summoning basic elements of a dramatic film—in this case, a marriage drama—to elevate the tension during the exposition just enough and then eventually adding a number of jigsaw pieces onto his canvas in order to arouse our suspicions and inspire us to look a bit closer. In other words, he makes movies that slowly come to life and those willing to stick through the transformation are rewarded.
Ben Affleck is spot-on as Nick, the husband who becomes a curious specimen under the media’s microscope. Nick acts strangely because although his wife has disappeared, possibly dead, he does not know how to behave when the spotlight is on him. For instance, when photographers ask him to pose and smile in front of a missing person poster, he doesn’t even think twice about following through with the request—and what it might mean for him once the one perfect snapshot is published all over the papers and shown on national television. Thus, he gives the impression that either he does not care or he is a direct culprit. Detective Boney (Kim Dickens) and Officer Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) certainly have their suspicions.
“Gone Girl” is a true cousin of Fincher’s other thrillers like “Se7en,” “The Game,” and “Zodiac.” Although never as dark as any of them, all four engage the viewers on a high level—to question not only what is really going on but also whether the final answer, or answers, is something that we really want to know. And just when we are convinced that the final layer has been peeled off completely, a movie as alive as this is already growing another stratum of skin cells, ready to be picked off.