Director David Fincher, Starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Kim Dickens, Neil Patrick-Harris, Carrie Coons, Tyler Perry, Missi Pyle

*SPOILERS*

I’ve always been a sucker for adaptations, especially the differences that naturally appear and what gets lost in translation. Films like No Country For Old Men have proved that it can work wonders, so Gone Girl had my interest from the get-go. Admittedly I haven’t read Gillian Flynn’s best-seller, so I went into this film fresh without any interpretation of setting, characters, or any real idea of what the film was about. For a mystery thriller such as this it was a smart move; nothing ruins a mystery more than knowing the ending beforehand. Unfortunately this was a film with twists and turns you could see coming.

Gone Girl is a film that presents itself in a real world with real people in a real scenario. A film like that needs to live within the boundaries of reality, it can’t get too fantastical or unrealistic. Stray outside those boundaries and the viewer loses belief in the film. This is where Gone Girl falters; it presents us with two normal people living in everyday suburbia and as the story unfolds it continually drags us further past those boundaries until you can’t suspend disbelief. Before the film is even in full swing you’re no longer invested.

The Story

The film opens with Nick (Ben Affleck) & Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), living in the aforementioned everyday suburbia, on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary. A quick chat with his sister Margo (Carrie Coon) lamenting the state of his relationship and we’re right into it; Nick arrives home to find Amy is missing and evidence of foul play. He calls the police and we’re introduced to Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens), who, for some odd reason, seems skeptical about the call and is nonchalantly denoting potential evidence with sticky-notes as if she expects to find a giggling Amy hiding in a closet.

From there the film rolls out the missing spouse police procedural. As the vulture’s circle Nick, Margo says she doesn’t doubt his innocence but we all know she does, while the police are too buttoned down and the media preoccupied looking for the juicy story to see that there’s something bigger going on. It’s frustrating to watch because we all know Nick’s innocent. One thing I will give this film is it did keep the story afloat with Amy’s treasure hunt, even though she is leading Nick down the garden path. Unfortunately the characters were losing me.

Now comes the payoff. After a brief tease that Nick may be crazy (I would’ve given this film a big fat zero if it went there) we learn what really happened to Amy. This is where we needed the characters to really come to life, to understand their motivation and how they tick, but instead the film ground to a halt. Sick and tired of being projected onto by others, Nick continues to do absolutely nothing about that, and as for the revelation about his wife’s disappearance? He shows zero interest, particularly in her state of mind and her reasoning, and is only concerned with clearing his name. For a man who showed great vanity when the spotlight was on him he seems to have now done a one-eighty. Nick is presented as the victim of the police, the media, and his wife, and I cannot find one redeeming quality about him. There’s no reason to like or sympathise with him, and the second act just accentuates it.

As for the rest of the cast, Margo is now also cold-hearted about Amy’s well-being, but other than that she’s just another feisty-female supporting character. Det. Boney, who was somewhat of an anchor for most the plot, just falls into obscurity, Nick’s hunt for Amy, consisting of a chat with a former classmate of Amy’s who was framed by her for rape (Scott McNairy), and a brief scene with Amy’s former high-school sweetheart Desi Collings (Neil Patrick-Harris), which could just as easily not been in the film, is simply enough to drag the plot to it’s third act. One interesting aspect is Amy running afoul of her two new neighbours (Boyd Holbrook and Lola Kirke). For a brief moment I felt some slight sympathy for the troubled and conniving Amy, which was interesting because we have such a methodical character come undone so easily, but instead of taking advantage of that brief moment of vulnerability we are presented with a third act full of reasons to hate this woman some more.

The fundamental issue is we’ve already seen the turning point, and we’re waiting for the resolution. It’s a long time to wait in a film that clocks in at over two hours, so a cavalcade of false finishes round out the inconclusive ending to the film.

Nick finally takes some initiative! He hires a high-profile lawyer, Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), who specialises in these cases, and goes on the offensive, in a way, to try and bring Amy out of hiding, who has since made contact with Desi. The film has finally picked up the steam it had at the beginning. Unfortunately, though Tanner’s introduction kick-starts the third act, it doesn’t last long.

After Tanner tells Nick to finally do something about his situation (because he need a pricey lawyer to do that), Nick sits down for a tell-all interview with TV-host Sharon Schieber (Sela Ward), and surprisingly Nick manages to win back some of the public with his performance as the soul-searching, repentant, and still-loving husband, despite that A) he’s faking it, and B) his former mistress, Andie (Emily Ratajkowski), holds a press conference not minutes before to announce their affair, which manages to be little more than a puddle of water Nick accidentally steps in on the road to getting sweet revenge on his wife, and, since this is the only time it is referenced or has any sort of indent, it might as well have not been in the film.

From here the film finally starts closing, though it’s going to make-believe a few potential endings before fizzling out. Amy, momentarily destitute and sleeping in her car, is now living with Desi in a secluded run-away paradise when she sees Nick’s interview on television, and this woman, who’s had an uncanny knack for seeing the forest for the trees, a trait nobody else possess in this film, is completely and utterly sucked into doing her own one-eighty and immediately falls back in love with Nick, to a degree so drastic we later see the lengths she’s willing to go to to return to him, despite knowing full-well he’s going to be none-to-pleased with her when she comes home. This film has long since made it impossible to suspend disbelief, why not add in some blatant idiocy?

Amy resolves to return to Nick, but can only manage this in one way, and it involves treachery, blood, and melodrama. This part of the film actually had me for a moment, because I finally had Amy figured out. The aforementioned methodical, conniving Amy that we’ve been led to believe is a real person turns out to be a charade she’d been living her whole marriage, and this mentally unsound, obsessive manipulator is what she has devolved into, all thanks to that torturous Nick… whom she is now hopelessly back in love with… thanks to ten minutes of a televised interview. None of this makes any damn sense. I will say I now finally understood Amy a whole lot better, which gave her a bit of dimension and made me believe in her as a character, but her motives and actions then totally ruined it. The end of the third act pushes Amy beyond the idea that she is completely insane by the way she deals with Desi, to the point we’re all shaking our heads at how ludicrous this has all become.

Amy returns, with blood on her hands, figuratively and literally, and falls into Nick’s arms in front of the ever-present paparazzi. Det. Boney, who briefly re-emerged from obscurity to charge Nick with murder, is now on Team Nick at a press conference of sorts with Amy sitting in a wheelchair and giving an incredibly unconvincing song and dance as to her whereabouts the past week. Det. Boney finally breaks off the shackles of film cliches and tries to get the truth out of Amy, and is completely shut down by the adversity that is other people talking over the top of her. After that she simply gives up, Tanner seems to have run out of good ideas, and so too does Margo relent, because Nick tells her to.

A scene in a diner puts an exclamation mark to the end of my statement that this realistic film strays outside the boundaries of realism when Det. Boney & Tanner both decide there isn’t anything that can be done about Nick’s situation with Amy, not that he needed to be told this because chances are he would’ve done stuff-all about it anyway, and Nick, in true Nick fashion, decides inaction is the best cause of action, and resolves to not-only change absolutely nothing about his situation but actually embrace it for some reason, all the while doing nothing, learning nothing, and leaving us to wonder why the hell we bothered to check in with a week of Nick’s life in the first place.

But now we can get into the tail of the film (or act four, as I like to call it, because it dragged it out that long), where true lessons are learnt, people change, and there’s an entire film of cause and reasoning for the characters to justify their decisions and make a difference to the lives they were leading before, right?

Wrong!

Det. Boney & Tanner return to the fog, their missions complete, sort of, Margo has one last scene as a crumpled heap on her kitchen floor, and Nick reunites with Amy in a pseudo-blissful everyday suburbia, totally accepting of his situation as if there’s nothing he can do about it, while Amy’s delusional head is in the clouds, pretending all is well in the world and the week she took off just didn’t happen. I waited for the real payoff, the end of the film where Nick can finally get one back on Amy and she can get her comeuppance, because that might have made the run-time worthwhile, but instead the film slows back down until it finally ceases momentum and just dies, with no true resolution.

Come on, man, rip into her. Make her life a living hell by becoming an abusive husband, go on TV and tell the world your story, take the baby when it’s born and run for the hills, just do something! (I don’t condone this behaviour but this is how desperate I’ve become).

The ending of the film is completely flat, accentuated by Nick bashing Amy’s head against the wall, paralleling what we’ve all been feeling watching this film, and with Nick resentfully allowing sensationalist biased reporter Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle) into his home to do a tell-all catch-up with the couple. A reporter who has spent the entire time bad-mouthing him in the media, condemning him as a murderer, and suggesting he was in an incestuous relationship with his sister is allowed, by him, into his home with no sign of repentance. What’s amazing about this final scene is this time Nick doesn’t even fake it, he sits next to his wife without even trying to hide the silent nightmare he’s now living in – and still, when he’s trying to do something, he does nothing. Meanwhile Amy smiles for the cameras and laps up the attention with Nick’s hand in hers, having regained the one thing she always truly desired: control.

The Characters

It’s almost as if Ben rocked up day-one of shooting and just couldn’t be bothered. I get the impression that Nick Dunne is meant to be the way he is, but I couldn’t help but feel like the whole performance was just lethargic and lacking any sort of depth or energy. It felt unrealistic, as my own interpretation of a man in his position would be somewhat frantic. Yeah, your marriage is down the drain but not only is there an inexplicable crime scene in your own home and your wife is missing but you’re the prime suspect and everything points in your direction. Wouldn’t you be the slightest bit concerned? We only begin to see any sincerity from Nick when he’s on television announcing his love for his missing wife, and he’s faking it. I can only pin-point two occasions when Nick shows any real emotion regarding the situation he’s in; when he arrives home and starts screaming for Amy, and when he’s formally charged with her murder, and by that point for Nick, and us, it’s far too late to do anything about it.

Rosamund Pike’s performance left me puzzled. It wasn’t until the later stages of the film, when she’s living with Desi, that I truly began to understand the character, up until that point I was wondering how such a straight-laced buttoned-down person could change so drastically, but it doesn’t cover the major holes in Amy’s change and development. At times I was being the voice of reason for her, asking myself why she didn’t just leave Nick, or how could a person such as herself be swayed by his TV tell-all so easily when we know, and she should know, full well what Nick is doing considering how she managed to manipulate and deceive him right under his nose without him ever knowing. Amy Dunne, in so many ways, could have been considered among the greats of crazy women in cinema, but the film shot itself in the foot by trying to juxtapose crazy Amy with the mundane feel that presides over the film. Her actions, inaction’s, and reactions make no sense in this situation, and while Rosamund has put in a great performance, the best aspect of the film, this is a great opportunity missed.

Det. Boney is all over the place. She has this attitude and demeanour of an off-beat cop who could see things for what they really are, yet is resigned to playing the role of the bureaucratic police detective who is simply out to make the case, and then all of a sudden returns to her off-beat roots, only to tell Nick that isn’t a thing she can do to help him… What? Kim Dickens makes the most of the time she has, but it’s the material she has to work with that really lets her down.

As for the rest of the cast we barely take notice of; Carrie Coon plays the role she’s meant to play quite well, I just couldn’t look past how lacking in areas Margo was. She could have been an integral piece to the overall tone and movement of the film, but apart from some angry outbursts, crying, and playing the audiences’ advocate with her vocalisation as to how frustrating this whole ordeal is, she’s well and truly wasted as a character and as an actress.

Tanner Bolt swings in and the saves the day, for thirty-odd minutes of screen-time, before also telling Nick there’s little he can do now, because he made his high-profile career by dealing with cases in this manner, and swings out, travelling to the next town to help those in need. It could have been a great supporting role for Tyler Perry, who did put in a good performance, wielding influence over proceedings and making a big difference to the outcome, but again, the material really left us wanting, and you can only do so much with what’s given to you.

Neil Patrick-Harris, though talented, is just not right for the role of Desi Collings. I’ll stop short of saying he’s miscast, as certain aspects of his performance fit the bill, but I just wasn’t convinced with NPH. It doesn’t help that his presence in the latter part of the story is necessary purely because the script calls him to be, otherwise the whole thing would be stuck, and it feels like a waste of not only a character but of NPH’s time.

The Making Of

David Fincher can create brilliant cinema, and I’m a fan of his. He has a list of films I would recommend to any potential movie buff, but Gone Girl is not one of them. Understandably I’m not in the know when it comes to the roles people play, but with the overall direction of the film, it’s feel, and tone, this is actually quite a disappointment. A man who was at the helm for such movies as Fight Club and Se7en should have done better.

This film is bleak, and it’s setting flat. There isn’t much to be found in this story, and the locations feel like a hastily drawn backdrop that holds little relevance to the character-driven plot. The only time I ever felt like a setting had any substance to it was New York during the budding romance between Nick & Amy. The whole city had this hopeful feel of longing and happiness to it, but it still felt constricted to revolve around those two. Even the view from their New York City apartment window looked as though it had been touched up to appear more magical. And the small town of North Carthage, Missouri didn’t have a feel to it at all. I can picture the crew members tearing the cardboard house-fronts down after production had ended, it was so lacking in any sort of presence.

The character-driven plot had nobody at the wheel, because the characters never jump out and come to life. I could tell that the script had a lot of potential, but it’s never given a chance to carry the film because the makers were too preoccupied with making this about a subconscious look at the damaged relationship between Nick & Amy, though coincidentally when the film does start to gain momentum it’s due to the plot taking charge and nothing the characters are going through, though the film seems determined to continually remind us of what’s going inside Nick & Amy, which is why the film can suddenly take off and then slow down. The treasure hunt would’ve been a great way to build the story, but it gets dumped before too long and only regains relevance when it’s needed to round things out. Meanwhile the story struggles as it’s dragged along by the characters, who simply weren’t developed enough to carry it. I’ve prattled on about Nick, who should’ve been the guy to guide this whole thing, yet does the exact opposite and grinds it to a halt, while Amy is too unrealistic and all over the place to hold this thing together, and the others never have a chance to step up and fall to the wayside, so the rudderless ship just wafted aimlessly until it eventually floated into the sunset, which is what the ending felt like. After over two-hours it just sort of slowed down and stopped, and I left the theatre dissatisfied and wanting more. It may be the first rule of show business, but it just doesn’t work here.

Overall

David Fincher has the goods to go all the way, and at times I could see where he was coming from, and those moments are the best moments of the film, but there’s just too many issues with the lack of characterisation and illogical plot points to save this piece. Looking back at what I’ve written I feel like I’m far too unforgiving as there are parts of this film that I did like (the concept is interesting and I did like Rosamund Pike’s performance), which makes me feel I should advocate that in another twenty years it might be a good story to revisit, and in a fantasy world I wouldn’t be adverse to having Fincher direct it again with the same cast, but right now Gone Girl is an opportunity gone begging.

3 of 10

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