“Gone Girl:” A foregone conclusion

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When a writer sells the movie rights to their book, it means a big pay day for them. Usually, they waive any creative control over what happens to their creation. Some writers bemoan that the adaptation of their tome is disastrous. They claim that their work has been ruined.

It’s rare, but Gillian Flynn, the author of “Gone Girl,” was commissioned to write an adaptation of her own book. Published accounts suggested that there were going to be major changes in the screen version, including a revision in the denouement. In reality, the film retains the book’s twists, turns, and edginess. It also has the multiple points of view, which were present in the book.

An early scene finds us in the fictional town of North Carthage, Missouri. Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) arrives home on the fifth anniversary of his marriage to Amy Elliot (Rosamund Pike). He is seemingly shocked by what he finds in the living room. A coffee table has been shattered and shards of glass litter the floor. Copious quantities of blood are everywhere. Where is Amy?

Ben Affleck in a scene from "Gone Girl." Photo by Merrick Morton.

Ben Affleck in a scene from “Gone Girl.” Photo by Merrick Morton.

Nick calls the police. At first, he seems genuinely befuddled by the circumstances. However, mounting circumstantial evidence suggests that Nick might not be quite as innocent as he initially seems. It is discovered that the local bar, which Nick operates with his twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon), was purchased with money borrowed from Amy’s trust fund. In addition, Nick recently increased the amount of the payout on his wife’s life insurance policy. So, Nick has an economic incentive to murder his wife. It doesn’t help matters that in televised interviews, Nick comes across as less than distraught by her disappearance.

The media whips up a public frenzy. They surround Nick’s home and when he heads to his sister’s place, they follow him there. Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle) is a cable television host, who is obviously inspired by Nancy Grace. According to Ellen’s hyperbolic rants, it’s obvious that Nick is a heartless killer. When it is discovered that Amy was pregnant, the matter is further sensationalized.

Two police detectives, Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) are assigned to the case. While Gilpin succumbs to the prevailing public sentiment about Nick’s guilt, Boney displays professional restraint. She is troubled by several obvious incongruities at the crime scene. Moreover, if Amy has been kidnapped, how come there are no ransom demands? If Nick or someone else murdered Amy, where is the corpus delicti? The whole situation is confounding to the detectives and the audience alike.

“Gone Girl” makes ample use of flashbacks to provide us with the early days of the Nick and Amy romance. Even though “Gone Girl” is a mystery thriller, not a rom com, Nick and Amy nevertheless meet cute. The two college undergrads are in a bar, where Amy works as a waitress. Nick approaches Amy and subjects her to some well-practiced pick-up lines. These have invariably worked on every other woman that Nick has ever tried to seduce. Why should Amy be any different?

The next thing you know, the two of them are ripping off one another’s clothing. Even though Nick has all the earmarks of a serial seducer, this liaison isn’t a one night stand. The sexual chemistry between Nick and Amy is nothing short of sensational. The film depicts a litany of assignations in various sites, including their school’s library stacks.

Nick meets Amy’s WASPy parents, Rand and Marybeth (David Clennon and Lisa Banes). It turns out that they wrote a series of best-selling books, featuring the character of Amazing Amy. Of course, the literary character is based on their daughter. As Nick commiserates, “They’ve plagiarized your childhood.”

Nick and Amy become successful, New York based journalists at national publications. However, when the economy goes bad, both of them are sacked. Nick’s mother is diagnosed with cancer, so the couple abandon their lives in Gotham and move to the provincial hinterlands of the Midwest. The film then reverts to the present.

Affleck’s limited skill as an actor once again proves problematic. The film requires someone, who can make viewers question whether the protagonist is a shallow, overgrown frat boy or a devious, calculating killer. Are you wondering? Come on- it’s Ben Affleck after all. Pike is marginally better cast. She is fine as an urbane sophisticate, who is encumbered with an overwhelming sense of alienation when compelled to move to a small Midwestern town. However, in the flashback scenes, her character is supposed to a randy college girl. It strains credulity.

Although Affleck and Pike are the film’s presumptive stars, they are repeatedly upstaged by members of the supporting cast. Kim Dickens is wonderful as a distaff police detective. Dickens imbues her character with a ruminative nature and a wry sense of humor. The big surprise here is Tyler Perry as Tanner Bolt, a renowned attorney, hired to defend Nick on murder charges. After his execrable performances in “Alex Cross” and “The Single Moms Club,” it was reasonable to conclude that Perry was doomed to a career purgatory, where he would forever play his cross-dressing, over the top creation, Medea. His performance in “Gone Girl” forces one to reconsider this expectation. Perry is outstanding as a high-powered litigator.

As unsavory Ozark Mountain white trash, Lola Kirke and Boyd Holbrook, are a hoot. Portraying Amy’s erstwhile boyfriends, Neil Patrick Harris and Scoot McNairy add texture to the back story. For good measure, throw in Emily Ratajowski, heretofore best known as the well-endowed woman in Robin Thicke’s music video for “Blurred Lines” and the annual “Sports Illustrated’ swimsuit issue. Providing a key plot device, she does a convincing job.

Of course, director, David Fincher, once again delivers a film that is meticulously rendered. The stylish film is dramatically absorbing, tautly paced, and beautifully shot.

However, Fincher’s extraordinary craftsmanship does not negate the significant plot holes and the misogyny that pervade the film, courtesy of Ms. Flynn’s script. Since she was allowed to adapt her own pulpy novel, these shortcomings were a foregone conclusion all along.

*** R (for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language) 148 minutes

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.

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