Reviewed by Noah Foster-Koth
Caution: There are spoilers in this review.
Can a movie have too many plot twists? Is it possible to change a story in so many ways that the audience no longer recognizes the movie they’re watching? That was my experience with Gone Girl, David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel.
The story kicks off when Nick Dunn (Ben Affleck) finds his home askew and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing. The media pounces on the story, and before long Nick is subjected to intense scrutiny that brings out his temper and makes him look like a potential murderer.
The acting is superb across the board. Fincher made an interesting choice by casting several comedy stars in serious roles, such as Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry. The rest of the supporting cast is a grab bag of talented unknowns, but it’s Affleck and Pike who carry the movie. Affleck’s portrayal of Nick darkens subtly as skeletons start tumbling out of his closet, and he shifts from a charming bad boy to a potentially dangerous one. For her part, Pike successfully balances her character’s aloof airs with moments of relatable vulnerability, at least for as long as the events of the story make such a thing possible.
The first third of the film is utterly engrossing. The story cuts between Nick’s efforts to find his missing wife and flashbacks of their tumultuous marriage. The flashbacks from Amy’s perspective cleverly function as exposition on Nick and Amy’s relationship, while also furthering speculation over what happened between them. There’s also an interesting, subtle commentary on the media’s eagerness to make the story more outlandish in order to hold viewers’ attention. It’s therefore bizarre that the movie makes the same mistake.
Much has already been said about Gone Girl’s unpredictable plot, which famously packs enough twists to fill multiple mystery novels. However, the film is so eager to buck audiences’ expectations that it changes more often than it should have. When it runs out of twists, Gone Girl resorts to gratuitous violence, with a particularly excruciating scene involving a throat slashing and subsequent rape. By the end, the film mutates from a taut, well-paced mystery to a gratuitous slasher flick. I respect Fincher’s desire to keep the story from becoming too predictable, but his movie is so eager to shock audiences that it loses any consistency in its storytelling. That was clearly the filmmakers’ intention, and maybe the constant switch-ups with the story are in keeping with the source material (which I haven’t read). Regardless, they’re detrimental to the film.
Although the plot goes downhill as the movie progresses, the actors stay strong. Affleck’s performance remains a highlight, and Pike comes as close as anyone could to delivering a believable performance, given the unbelievable dramatic arc her character undergoes. It’s clear that she has the acting talent to convey a nuanced, complicated character, and it’s disappointing that Gillian’s script doesn’t give her one. Her character’s transformation into a man-hating sociopath isn’t consistent with the realistic tone of the rest of the film. The titular character isn’t the person you thought she was, and Gone Girl isn’t nearly the movie it could have been.