Sunday, October 5, 2014

Weekend Matinee: My Review of “Gone Girl”

I almost never go to movies in theaters anymore, and it’s unprecedented for me to see a movie on its opening weekend. But ever since I read “Gone Girl”, I’ve been champing at the bit for the film to come out, and I managed to make it to a matinee today! I’m hip and current! I actually saw a movie the same weekend it was released! I even balked like a true old person when I realized matinees are nine dollars now. Nine dollars? When did that happen? God, I need to get out more. Anyway, here’s my review:

Nick and Amy, a loving and well-to-do writerly couple living in Manhattan, fall on hard times when they both lose their jobs and are forced to move to Missouri and live with Nick’s ailing mother. One day, Nick comes home to find signs of a struggle in the house, and his wife missing. He quickly becomes the main suspect in the case, and finds himself at the center of a media feeding frenzy. The scrutiny is especially intense because Amy has a measure of fame—she was the inspiration for a series of beloved children’s books her parents wrote called “Amazing Amy”. As the evidence piles up against him, Nick makes a series of blunders that only increase the suspicion of the police and media.

Unfortunately, I found “Gone Girl” to be slow-paced, frustratingly detached, and emotionally unsatisfying. It was well-written (Gillian Flynn, the author of the book, also wrote the screenplay), well-acted, and well-shot. But there was a strange disconnect between the actors. It seemed like each of them were acting separately in their own little glass bubbles, and none of them were connecting with or reacting off of each other. Even Nick and his twin sister Go didn’t feel as though they were in the close relationship that was constantly referenced. It felt like everyone was acting at each other rather than with each other. None of the characters are especially likeable, but even the ones who are more sympathetic didn’t evoke much of an emotional response from me. It was frustrating, because all of the performances individually were amazing, especially Rosamund Pike, who played Amy. (Special kudos to Neil Patrick Harris, who was exquisite as Amy’s creepy ex-boyfriend).

As technically good as the acting was, even the characters most harrowing emotional moments didn’t draw me in or make me feel like there was something at stake. It seemed like director David Fincher was more preoccupied with creating a detached “portrayal” of a troubled marriage than telling a story. If this was the goal, he succeeded—it felt very portraiture-like, as though I were in a museum looking at these figures behind glass while someone narrated their lives for me in a recording: Here is what a sociopath acts like. Here is the puzzled detective. Here is the arrogant, cynical lawyer. Around the corner to your right is the big murder scene. Also, the pacing seemed out of synch for a story that hinges on “time is of the essence” suspense. Everyone moved around like they were slightly stunned, and no one seemed to be in much of a hurry. Even Nick doesn’t seem particularly worried about his own fate until much further into the film. And the score, by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, seems incongruous with the tone of the film, as though it’s being used to invoke the suspense that the direction can’t.

Gone Girl flirts with satire in the portrayal of the media, with Nancy Grace’s doppleganger relentlessly attacking Nick, and the crass manipulation of public opinion by Nick’s celebrity lawyer, but even that felt a little on the nose. It’s unfortunate that excellent casting and storytelling still couldn’t make this movie a satisfying psychological drama, a satire, or a suspense thriller. I love most of David Fincher’s movies, but I think in the hands of a different director, “Gone Girl” could have captured more of the book’s breathless tension and acute emotional charge.

But it wasn’t all bad. As previously mentioned, Rosamund Pike’s performance was stunning, especially in her portrayal of the past Amy in a happy marriage,, where she has moments of luminous charm that are a joy to watch. Kim Dicken’s understated portrayal of lead investigator Rhonda Bones is intelligent and subtle. The dialogue is witty and amusing more often that not.  And I respect Ben Affleck’s choice to commit to Nick’s unlikeability right through to very end. You don’t feel that he deserves what he gets, but you don’t feel particularly sorry for him either.

Overall, I give this movie two out of five typewriter ribbons. If you want to kill an afternoon in a dark theater, there are worse ways to do it. But if you’re a fan of the book, be prepared to be disappointed.

--Kristen McHenry

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