Gone Girl (2014)

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Directed by David Fincher
Written by Gillian Flynn

Rated R

Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne
Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne
Carrie Coon as Margo Dunne
Kim Dickens as Det. Rhonda Boney
Tyler Perry as Tanner Bolt
Neil Patrick Harris as Desi Collings
Patrick Fugit as Officer James Gilpin
Missi Pyle as Ellen Abbott
Sela Ward as Sharon Schieber

When Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) discovers his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing, it appears Gone Girl is preparing to tread familiar thriller ground. Based on Gillian Flynn’s bestselling smash from 2012 (she also wrote the script), the film is anything but predictable, with twists and turns abounding with little or no warning. This is the best thriller since last year’s Prisoners.

Nick arrives home on his fifth wedding anniversary to find his living room in disarray, a glass coffee table shattered, and Amy is gone. The police arrive, and the smart, observant Det. Boney (Kim Dickens) is inclined to give Nick the benefit of the doubt. Officer Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) is more indicative of a small-town law enforcement schmuck, too lazy to look beyond the nose on his own face. If a wife is missing, the husband must be Scott Peterson. Det. Boney is clearly smarter and more perceptive. This is a refreshing spin of the standard portrayal of police in thrillers. I would expect a militant “feminist” female detective to immediately demonize the man, simply by virtue of his gender. If it’s a man, if there was trouble in the marriage, then he must be guilty. (Such opinions, by the way, would not be expressed by a true feminist, rather by an issue-rattled, insecure man-hater.) Dickens is fantastic as Det. Boney - she digs deeper, asks good questions, follows her natural instincts. Fugit’s Gilpin is kind of like Barney Fife, without the humor. He’s simplistic, lazy, and abrasive, not unlike many male cops.

The challenge in critiquing a film like Gone Girl is the workaround the plot details. Revealing spoilers would be unforgivable, even for those who have read Flynn’s book. The audience familiar will the story with reflect that Flynn taps into her characters brilliantly, and her voice is starkly adult and brutally frank. It’s not surprising that Flynn is writing about unemployed writers; she was laid off from her job as a writer at Entertainment Weekly. No joke.

In addition to being a thriller, Gone Girl is a lacerating indictment of marriage gone horribly awry. When Nick and Amy (Pike, who is on a short list for a Best Actress nomination) meet in New York City, they are both working writers. Nick is charming and good looking, and Amy is a blonde bombshell with a Ivy League education. They eventually marry, but the Internet boom renders them both unemployed. Amy remains optimistic they will rebound, but Nick feels down on his luck, and he resolves to relocate back to his roots, small town Missouri. Resentment sets in, as Big City Girl Amy never acclimates to the slower pace of the midwestern suburbs. Nick and his twin sister “Go” (short for Margo) open a bar called, imaginatively, The Bar. Carrie Coon is a standout as the cynical Go. Like the character in the book, she is extraordinarily close to her twin brother, but she does not shy away from harsh accusations when Nick’s lies begin to uncover. Coon is seasoned stage actress, now starring in HBO’s acclaimed series The Leftovers.

Among many twists, viewers may be perplexed at which one is the most far-fetched. I dare not reveal anything further, except that nothing is as it appears to be. Amy’s missing status is the only similarity to the tragic real-life case of Scott and Laci Peterson. Sure, the public learned Scott was “a cad,” as his lawyer stated in his murder trial, for cheating on Laci. And it could be assumed that their marriage had problems, but let’s not forget that when Laci was first reported missing, it was her family that stood behind Scott, suggesting he was the perfect husband. Flynn has acknowledged the Laci Peterson case provided some inspiration, but don’t look for Pike’s Amy to resemble Laci.

Much of the attention will go to Pike, who is a revelation (not unlike Rooney Mara in Fincher’s excellent adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as the enigmatic Amy. Pike is an actress to watch (remember her from 2005’s Pride & Prejudice? I do.). I did have some reservations about Affleck’s casting as Nick. Lately, Afflect has displayed his gift for directing, helming The Town and the Oscar-winning Best Picture Argo (he was robbed of not only the Oscar win, but a Best Director bid!!). Anyway, Affleck proved me wrong, delivering his best-ever performance. He has appeared smug and disengaged in previous acting roles, which would seem to serve him well in this part. I leave it for you to decide if the so-called smugness is ingrained in this performance.

Meanwhile, Tyler Perry takes a break from his overplayed Madea schtick, proving he has actual credibility as an actor. He plays Nick’s slick defense attorney, and to buy Perry as a high-profile lawyer is no small achievement. Character actress Missi Pyle (The Artist) is completely convincing as a Nancy Grace-like talk show host, minus Grace’s in-your-face honest and intelligence. Grace alienates some people with her outspoken nature, but she’s a truth-teller of the most illuminating kind. My guess is if Grace were a man, the criticism would be less substantial. I find a disconnect between females who fancy themselves liberated, intelligent, or both -- but slam Grace for her views. I guess Feminism 101 instructs females that to be empowered, they all must believe the same way. Pyle’s character is neither intelligent nor engaging, just outrageous and entertaining. Still, it works. Sela Ward, looking ageless and elegant, is great in a brief bit as a cable TV host, whose interview with Nick sets the stage for a pivotal plot development. Speaking of Ward, she’s a terrific actress -- why doesn’t she get more meaty parts. Her presence in this film reminds me of the key role she played in 1993’s brilliant The Fugitive.

Finally, ubiquitous Neil Patrick Harris has a key role as one of Amy’s ex-boyfriends. I have nothing against Harris, except I’d like to see a little less of him. He hosts every awards show known to the entertainment masses, he’s been a sitcom star, a Tony-winning sensation, and he’s a champion of the gay community. In fact, Ryan Murphy has just cast Harris in American Horror Story: Freak Show. Hard to believe Harris wasn’t part of The Normal Heart. Given Harris’s penchant for a more flamboyant persona as of late, I feared his casting might stretch credibility as a heterosexual who could land a woman (a woman who is all woman) like the elusive Amy. You know, the way Murphy expects audiences to accept Jane Lynch as man-loving gym teacher on Glee. Um, yeah. Regardless of my concerns, Harris was convincing and even complex in this role. His casting was the right choice.

Gone Girl is entertaining and thought-provoking, a great time at the movies, based on a thrilling script. Indeed, it’s one of the best movies of the year.

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