One of the greatest delights about films is how you can begin in one place, and at the end of the two hour or so runtime you have no idea where you’ll end up. Gone Girl is one such example; beginning as a simple crime thriller, a ‘did he do it?’, it takes advantage of the viewer’s familiarity with the genre in order to make that moment where it pulls the rug out from under them so much better. And it does so again and again until it is a shell of its former self.
Credit for the narrative direction goes to Gillian Flynn, writer of the screenplay and author of the original book on which the film is based. What director David Fincher does is set the audience up, using crime genre tropes to lull us into a false sense of security regarding where things are going. He is helped immensely with a score by his regular collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross; a series of buzzes, drones and repeated motifs which transition between deliriously beautiful and dread-inducing as seamlessly as the film itself.
Things start simply enough: on the day of his wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing, and there is evidence of foul play. As is often the case with these things, the police suspect Nick, as does the media. While all this goes on, flashback through the medium of Amy’s diary reveal the narrative of Nick and Amy’s relationship, from its dreamy beginnings to the less-than-perfect circumstances under which she has gone missing.
In the central roles, Affleck and Pike both show how they are fantastic casting choices for the types of characters they play; Nick hides his emotions, providing fuel for the media to speculate on the nature of his guilt, whereas Amy exerts a kind of crazy energy that makes it easy to see how anyone would fall in love with her, while also suggesting something much darker. For an actress often cast just to be your standard English rose, Pike’s performance is a revelation.
The two are supported by a fine range of supporting actors: Carrie Coon as Nick’s sister, in which he closely confides, and Kim Dickens as the lead investigator on the case are two particularly good examples of casting which simply works. In a film which relies on a central couple, it’s good to see the supporting players are just as strong as the leads.
The thing is though, this is maybe half the film. I’d love to talk about the other half, but it’s so full of surprises that to reveal any would be a grave sin committed against a work which is strongest when treated as a crazy journey, touching on so many subjects throughout its two and a half hour run-time that the best thing to do is just sit back and enjoy the ride.
If there is any criticism, it’s that everything moves so fast, there is hardly any time for rumination: it picks its targets, it comments, often with a darkened sense of humour, and then it leaves for something else. I haven’t read the book, but can only assume that it goes into more detail about the subjects it touches, whereas the nature of cinema means that by necessity, a 500-page novel must be sped up in order to stay within a reasonable run time. There are some thoughts there; observations on the media, the nature of relationships and how we are judged by others – it’s just a shame these end up being underdeveloped.
There is a question over whether a work so reliant on tension and twists will stand up to future watching, but for now, I highly recommend taking the time to bask in Gone Girl’s crazy glory.
Image Rights; Merrick Morton/Twentieth Century Fox. Gone Girl is Out Now on DVD, Blu-Ray and for Digital Download.