|That smile is the best evidence of Affleck's perfect casting.|
A local man’s wife goes missing. There is evidence of a struggle. The man, over the course of the first days of the disappearance, acts strangely and appears to be increasingly guilty. Does this sound like the set up to the year’s smartest, most biting comedy? Strangely enough, it is. Gone Girl, the insanely popular novel by Gillian Flynn (who also wrote the screenplay), had its darkly comedic moments, but overall the novel maintained an acerbic tone as it dissected a toxic marriage and the media circus of disappearances/murders. The film maintains that tone but also elevates the source material by becoming a somewhat absurdist comedy. It’s almost as if Flynn realized as she was adapting it that a lot of the plot, simply over the top on the page, would become silly on the screen. It’s a good thing she did because it made Gone Girl not only interesting, but entertaining as well.
The specific story of Gone Girl concerns Nick Dunne (a perfectly cast Ben Affleck), a failed New York journalist who returns to his economically down-turned Missouri home with his beautiful wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), a New York woman through and through (and the subject of a children’s book series written by her parents titled Amazing Amy). Their marriage deteriorates over the course of a couple years in Missouri, and on the day of their fifth anniversary, Amy goes missing. That sounds more like the plot to your typical Lifetime movie, but to say much more would spoil the bulk of the film.
The film jumps around narratively so both sides of the relationship are featured, and this allows for plenty of fears of marriage to be tossed around (cheating, money, complacency, bitterness, etc.). It ends up being a darkly funny look at all the fears married couples (or just people in relationships in general) go through. The basic question being: how much can you really know anyone? This isn’t a new question for a film. (The Rules of Attraction comes to mind, when James Van Der Beek’s character flat out says, “No one ever knows anyone.”) And marriage is often the subject of a film (my favorite film about marriage, or rather, the fears of marriage, would have to be Eyes Wide Shut). But Gone Girl is unique in that it doesn’t present itself as a case study about marriage. It’s an absurdist dark comedy about marriage.
Who better for an absurdist dark comedy than David Fincher? Director Fincher may not be the first name brought up when it comes to comedy, but when you check his filmography (Fight Club, Se7en, Zodiac, The Social Network), you see that a number of his films are flat out comedic or at least contain quite a few darkly comedic moments. Some questioned his decision to take on such a popular novel for his latest film, but once you see it, you understand why the director, famous for filming dozens of takes for particular scenes, is perfect for this source material. On the page, Flynn wrote dialogue in many scenes as sparsely as possible. On the screen, reaction shots are necessary. This is why Fincher was perfect for this; his multiple takes allowed him to capture the best facial responses to the insanity of the story. Hats off to Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous) for providing the funniest nonverbal reactions. Because of this, the audience is so used to seeing these silent reactions that when Nick’s lawyer (portrayed by a great Tyler Perry) states, “You two are the most f-ed up people I’ve ever met,” it gets a huge laugh (or at least it did in my theater) because someone finally said it out loud.
Those people Perry is referring to are impressively portrayed by Affleck and Pike. Everyone knows who Affleck is, and we’re all on board with his career resurgence of late. I never found him to be lacking in acting ability (his role choice is another question), so it was great to see him in a part seemingly written exclusively for him: a character that many people seem to want to hate (just look at the typical internet reaction to Affleck’s casting as the new Batman), but really can’t help his nature. To be certain, Affleck is not Nick, but it’s easy to confuse the two, which is a credit to his performance that will almost certainly get ignored in the coming awards season (they already gave him Oscars for writing and directing, it’s doubtful they’ll add acting anytime soon).
Rosamund Pike is lesser known but her work here is just as impressive. Without spoiling anything, she gets a bit more to do than the other characters, and she handles it all very convincingly. The film opens with Nick narrating, wondering what goes on in Amy’s mind, and Pike does a great job at conveying that mystery. There’s so much going on in her eyes and reactions.
The supporting cast is just as perfectly cast as the leads. The aforementioned Fugit and Perry surprised in their roles (it’s hard to imagine the kid from Almost Famous as a detective or Madea as a lawyer). Kim Dickens (under-appreciated in nearly everything she does), as the lead detective, is effective as she puzzles through the story, providing a cipher for the audience. Carrie Coon provides another cipher role for the audience as Nick’s sister and provides plenty of comedic relief, as well. You get the idea; it’s a great cast through and through.
The writing, directing, and acting are all great, but the music truly completes this film. The score (by recent Fincher mainstays Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) for Gone Girl gets under your skin. While the film is funny, it is also filled with tense moments. The tension created by the script and performances is already apparent, but that distracting score adds the finishing touch. A good score isn’t necessarily supposed to be noticed, and Reznor and Ross concocted a perfect blend of…well, noise that pervades throughout the film cutting off just at the moment it becomes impossible to ignore.
If Gone Girl accomplishes anything, it presents a certain despairing mood about a toxic marriage. It’s truly a nihilistic, somewhat angry film peopled with (mostly) unlikable/despicable characters. Somehow, however, Fincher and company have turned this into one of the year’s funniest, most enjoyable film experiences.
Gone Girl receives a: