James D. McCallister

author of the Edgewater County series

REVIEW (Theatrical): GONE GIRL (2014)

David Fincher’s most accomplished and entertaining film since Zodiac, this adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s hit novel Gone Girl emerges as one of the more trenchant and often hilarious satires in recent cinematic memory.

A work of art that’s equally at home skewering male-female marital relationships, popular news media, celebrity worship, American spending and eating habits, or even suspense movies themselves, mainstream audiences expecting a truly Hitchcockian thriller with twists and turns of a more conventional nature may, however, find it tonally uncertain, if not outright implausible to the point of distraction.

Affleck faces the media.

Affleck faces the media.

From the marketing, this seems meant to be taken as a fairly conventional thriller. The plot, adapted by first-time screenwriter Flynn, certainly begins as such, the description of which is best left only to details about the set-up:

It’s a familiar narrative to followers of American media, as well as these kinds of suspense stories: a lovely trust-fund housewife and model for her parents’ once-successful series of children’s books, Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) goes missing, with her smug and not nearly grief-stricken enough husband Nick (Ben Affleck, looking appropriately overfed and beefily realistic) emerging to the police and a media-stoked public as a likely and culpable player in the gone-ing of the girl, so to speak.

As the details of an unsettled and failing marriage unfold, it looks pretty bad in terms of Affleck’s role in the disappearance, what with a history of physical conflict, the evidence of some hastily cleaned-up blood in the kitchen, and the recent purchase of a rather large insurance policy taken out on the missing wife. Layers of truth begin to peel back, however, that reveal a more more complicated situation (thank goodness), with questions and twists soon arising about just who in the marriage may have been the bigger victim.

Fincher directing Pike.

Fincher directing Pike.

Acting and tech credits are all of a typically Finchian high calibre, with the leads and a solid supporting cast of memorable players (including Tyler Perry as a Johnny Cochran-style defense attorney, Neil Patrick Harris as a very Anthony Perkins-like ex-stalker of Amy’s, and Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit as the increasingly certain, then skeptical, police investigators) all contributing strong, if not career-best work.

In particular, Affleck’s typically bland onscreen personality seems well suited to his part as an at-first suspicious and potentially sociopathic husband, one whose everyman qualities later begin to cast more doubt than suspicion on his involvement.

Pike, on the other hand, and who appears for much of the running time in flashback, must deliver a variety of moods and demeanors as the not-all-she-seems perfect and lovely wife. To say more about her role would do a disservice to the mechanics of the plot, the key twist of which is as surprisingly and deliciously rendered as Marion Crane’s sudden death in the Bates Motel shower, a classic movie moment that in a late scene receives an affectionately direct callback.

Shot by frequent Fincher DP Jeff Cronenweth (The Social Network, Fight Club), the visual palette here features the director’s typically steely, yellowish, and often unappealing tones that in this case well represent the middlebrow suburbs and downmarket locations in which Gone Girl traffics its putrefied view of human relationships. In its depictions of American vacuity and capriciousness, particularly when it comes to the the world of celebrity murderers and victims, the heroes and villains that populate the reliably ugly, sensationalist, and voracious TV news cycle, the often pus-yellow cast to much of the proceedings makes the viewer feel appropriately infected and in need of spiritual antibiotics.

Since hyperbolic film writers often feel compelled to compare Fincher to greats like Hitch and Kubrick, let’s say Gone Girl plays like part Dr. Strangelove, part Psycho, with obvious visual and performance nods to that iconic picture, which of course can also be read as a particularly mordant send-up that’s also deliberate in its design to be experienced and enjoyed as a fairly straight horror/thriller as well. Strong recommendation for this satisfying, amusing piece of cinematic subterfuge.

Pike and cat, who thankfully survives.

Pike and cat, who thankfully survives.

About dmac

James D. McCallister is a South Carolina author of novels, short stories, and creative nonfiction. His latest book, a story collection called The Year They Canceled Christmas, releases in November 2017.

One Reply

  1. I liked “The Ice Storm” — great horror satire. We southerners just don’t know what real winter weather is. I too enjoyed the movie “Boyhood” Best art film since “Moonrise Kingdom.”I have to disagree with you though about “Gone Girl” Why is everything a slasher film now ! I had to run and puke my guts out in the Nickelodeon bathroom. I hate to be bombarded with gratuitous violence. A barrage of violent shows is the opiate of us masses. Deadens many of us (not you and Jennifer) to reeling over the hell of the real violence going on now. I like what Noam Chomsky had to say: “If you don’t like terrorism, don’t participate in it.” If you look the word terrorism up in the dictionary, it just means using violence to further a political cause. During the holiday season of 1989 Daddy Bush sent the military to a ghetto in Panama to get Noriega. They were not quite sure where he was so they went in blazing to flush him out. KILLED Around 3000 impoverished civilians so we could get our man. I’m looking forward to reading more of you. You’re very gifted and talented.

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