Gone Girl

A marriage, and great film, with a flaw

Gone Girl is a lovely peach with a moldy pit. With masterful plotting courtesy of its source—the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn—the film’s taut treatment of an unhappy marriage in the cable and social media age subverts audience expectations in a way that should be an exciting, even cathartic, experience. Instead, I need a memory flush.

And that’s the ultimate problem with Gone Girl. I can appreciate it on its technical merits . . . But I didn’t enjoy this film.

Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a former magazine writer whose family obligations bring him and his upper-class New York wife, Amy Elliott-Dunne (Rosamund Pike), to live in a small town in Missouri. When Nick discovers Amy missing on their fifth anniversary, he slides into a rabbit hole of his and Amy’s making. Unfortunately for him, so do a pair of police detectives, a host of nosy neighbors, some voracious cable news personalities, and just about everyone in the country with ears and an opinion.

Affleck rarely inspires the phrase “brilliant casting,” but in this case, his particular talent for conjuring smarmy, yet hapless likeability suits the role of Nick Dunne to perfection. The film even capitalizes on the thread of insincerity that often lurks beneath Affleck’s movie star smile; in a flashback to their dating years, Amy tells Nick the dent in his chin makes him seem untrustworthy. It’s a humorous moment director David Fincher mines in later scenes to differing impact.

But it seems to be Affleck’s destiny to be one-upped by his co-stars, because in Gone Girl, Rosamund Pike makes Hollywood look foolish for leaving her off the A-list in the dozen years she’s been in the public eye. As Amy Dunne, she is warm and chilling, strong and vulnerable, clever, flirtatious, and impossible to predict. There aren’t too many roles that let a woman be both admirable and loathsome, so kudos to Pike for making the most of this juicy part.

While the cable news anchors castigate Nick and speculate over his relationship with Amy, we viewer-voyeurs think we have a backstage pass to the Real Story. We get to see the lawyer spin the PR wheel. We witness the dog-and-pony show that is the “Find-Amazing-Amy Search Committee” first-hand. To us, the grit is palpable: graphic nudity, harsh language, and stomach-turning physical and emotional violence.

All that front-row access means nothing, however, when the so-called Real Story is also a parade of deception. It’s a neat trick to be able to flip audience sympathies on a dime—even more impressive when it can be done three, even four times in a film. But the trouble with such a trick is it leaves your audience disengaged from the characters. The ending loses any impact it could have had.

And that’s the ultimate problem with Gone Girl. I can appreciate it on its technical merits, marvel at the perfect confluence of score, lighting, and storytelling fed to the audience crumb by tantalizing crumb—that look in Rosamund Pike’s face at the beginning of the film might be one of the great micro-performances in movie history. But I didn’t enjoy this film. When the credits rolled, my husband said he felt like he needed a shower, and we both wished we had seen something else.

Gone Girl may indeed represent a version of the more dramatic troubles a marriage can face. After all, cable news headlines have too many sad tales about relationships gone sour and the resulting criminal fallout. But I have seen other harrowing movies—Mystic River, Hotel Rwanda—and I didn’t wish those movies unseen when they were over. Perhaps it’s the sheer smallness of the tragedy that makes it feel ugly and pointless: two people doing awful things to each other and anyone unlucky enough to be caught up with them.

Gone Girl is rated R for the aforementioned violence, strong sexual content/nudity, and language.