Please note that this review contains some vague and minor spoilers.
Gone Girl is well-acted. Gone Girl is well-shot. Gone Girl is well-directed, well-edited and well-written. I hated Gone Girl.
I didn’t hate it from the outset. On the contrary, I was rather taken with the story: a man named Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) wakes up to find his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), gone and what looks like the remnants of a home invasion in her wake. Nick is immediately sympathetic and his situation, though not familiar, is at least understandable.
Affleck plays the role perfectly. He begins with what many might describe as the usual Ben Affleck sort of performance – aloof, mouth agape. But this time it has a purpose. Nick is dumbfounded. He, like the audience, is stupefied by Amy’s disappearance. We go slack-jawed together. But Affleck’s performance gains nuance as the story gains complexity. It is an impressive arc that warrants attention for best lead performance at this year’s Oscars.
But where Affleck is good, Rosamund Pike is better. She is phenomenal as Amy. Her calm voiceovers are deceivingly innocent and sensual. This sweet exterior explodes into quiet rage and passion as she flits from one emotion to another, hiding her next move from the audience with a stone face that’s impossible to read. A brief twitch here and a flinch there belie that Pike is a master of manipulation; she might play an excellent villain one day.
David Fincher’s style is alive and well in Gone Girl. He cuts through walls, avoids almost all handheld shots and uses dialogue power plays to convey shifting dynamics between the main cast. Gillian Flynn – author of source novel – delivers a tight, snappy script that falls right in line with the black humor of Fincher’s catalog. Although the final moments of the film end with more of a sigh than a punch, Fincher and Flynn use their craft to keep up a thrilling pace at least until that point.
Fincher’s slick direction and Flynn’s clever writing are so distracting that it took until halfway through the film before I realized – and began to despise – their message. Though the book was written by a woman, the film feels like a laundry list of Angry Men’s Problems. And if the movie is the sounding board for Angry Men, then Amy Dunne is their voodoo doll.
Amy is the consummate straw woman in conversations about gender privilege. Attractive but cold? Check. Cries sexual assault? Check. Claims domestic abuse? Yep. Uses pregnancy and the threat of custody battles to manipulate men? Of course.
The problem is Amy doesn’t exist in real life. There are terrible people in the world who might cry wolf on important issues, but they are far and few between. They certainly aren’t concentrated in one psychopathic person, mashed together into a punching bag for Angry Men to point at and say, “See? Amy represents a systemic problem. This is what feminism has wrought.”
Once this mantra becomes clear, Affleck’s Nick quickly sheds his benevolent shell from the first half of the film. Where before I cared for his well-being, I came to see him as the avatar for those “downtrodden” Angry Men. Her disappearance wreaks discord in his life as he becomes the object of all of Amy’s conspiratorial machinations. Nick’s twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon) becomes embroiled in his news media spiral, his relationship with Amy’s parents falls into disrepair and his livelihood becomes threatened.
Woe is him. If only this ever happened in the real world.
The hits become so egregious toward the end of the film that I genuinely wondered at the movie’s genesis. Why did David Fincher – an adept at adaptation – agree to make Gone Girl? If this version is faithful to Flynn’s book, who thought it deserved a movie? What was anyone involved in this project thinking?
Tomas Vinterberg’s superior movie, The Hunt, deals with a similar plot. In both films, a man accused of a heinous crime finds himself helpless against a rising tide of public opinion. Their guilt or innocence is irrelevant; these men are thrown at the mercy of trial by popular vote, and their lives are destroyed because of it.
Yet the difference between these movies is stark. Where The Hunt places no emphasis on male or female identity, Gone Girl thrives on the specter of gendered boogymen. It would be unthinkable in Fincher’s universe to turn Nick into “the man who cried assault” or to make Amy the victim of such heinous criminal allegations. That’s because Gone Girl exists in a world where men are the downtrodden class, not women. It’s a fantasy land where male rapists face “30 to life” for their crimes, not less than one year.
Oftentimes, I find that the best way to evaluate a film is to look at its thesis. What is it trying to say? The themes of Gone Girl read loud and clear. For Fincher and Flynn, Amy is a burning effigy of imagined anti-male oppression. She is that constant of society that no one will suspect and therefore can get away with anything – even murder. She is a conniving facet of femininity that apparently exists only to emasculate men everywhere.
Whether you choose to accept this idiotic premise is up to you. I do not.
Movie Verdict: Fail
EDIT: For more information on why Gone Girl operates on a completely faulty outlook on gender-based violence, check out Joan Smith’s article at The Guardian.