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'Gone Girl' Review: Ben Affleck, David Fincher savagely take on Gillian Flynn's Best-Selling Novel

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The marriage of crime thriller and razor sharp satire is at the heart of Gone Girl, David Fincher’s (Se7en) shocking and shockingly entertaining film based on the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn.

The trailers and TV spots for the film don’t even scratch the surface of this portrait of a union in decay, but what has been shown hints at a traditional murder mystery. An oddly affected Nick (Ben Affleck) stops home after a quick afternoon trip to a downtown bar that he owns to encounter tragedy. The front door is open, his wife is missing, and shattered glass and broken furniture in the living room indicate something is quite amiss.Gone Girl

Where has Nick’s wife Amy gone? Did she run away? Is kidnapping a possibility? This quickly becomes the million-dollar question, and swarms of media swallow the story and spread it around the town like wildfire.

The genial Nick professes innocence from the start, but as pieces of evidence around him start to mount, the line of innocence blurs dramatically. Did Nick play an intrinsic part in his wife’s disappearance? With the deck increasingly stacked against him, he enlists the aid of his no-nonsense sister (Carrie Coon) and a high-profile lawyer (Tyler Perry) as he prepares for the worst.  

The film is interjected in intervals by a voice-over of Amy, reading from her diary. In these excerpts, she chronicles the relationship from the blissful beginning, struggling midsection, and to what she interrupts as the fearful ending. Of course, there are three sides to every story, and as the film breaks through the traditional thriller framework, it becomes clear that nothing is what it seems in Gone Girl.

Any movie is only as good as its players, and both leads are terrifically cast. Affleck personifies the “corn fed, salt of the earth” archetype, whose obsession with being the perfect husband and nice guy conceals quite a few significant flaws. Meanwhile, Pike’s Amy requires a far defter balancing act. Several reveals during the film’s second half lessen credibility established during the opening segment. I will say this though; her unpredictable performance is nothing less than absorbing, magnetic and even lethal at times.

Fincher is a masterful filmmaker who can drum up some beautiful imagery and create unbearable tension if needed. Here, he does both, soaking the frame with the same muted color palette and visual poetry that permeated The Social Network, Zodiac and many others. The satirical elements of the story are nicely realized and even evoke laughter, albeit uncomfortable laughter. He also disturbs on several occasions, specifically in a gut wrenching sequence of graphic violence late in the film that’s a true jaw-dropper.

There are a quite a few of those shocking, dark twists in Gone Girl, and it’s those moments that etched the book’s place in airport page-turner history. In the end though, it’s hard not to feel desensitized by the film’s steely touch. Without giving anything away, mainstream audiences may find difficulty with the lack of closure attributed to a thoroughly unlikeable character, as well as a sour open-ended finale that perhaps suggests the punishment for stupid mistakes carries on forever.

In this way, Gone Girl can’t have its cake and eat it too. The startling thriller wants us to care about the characters, but the cynical satire disconnects the audience. The combination here results in more than a little uneasiness.

Then again, what coupling is without its faults?  

 

 

Contact Jim Teti at jteti@philly2philly.com

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