Like most husbands who live off their wealthy wives, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) isn’t a terribly likeable guy. He helps run a bar (paid for by his wife) and alternately plays video games and watches reality television. His marriage to Amy (Rosamund Pike) isn’t going so well, after five years; from Nick’s perspective, living under the thumb of his trust-fund wife is more than just a chore, it’s excruciating. So it’s understandable why, when it appears that Amy has been murdered in their home, Nick would be the prime suspect.
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In David Fincher’s Gone Girl
, the mystery appears to be not whodunit but rather why they did it and what the endgame really is. It’s a little long (143 minutes) and has at least one too many denouements; just when you believe you have a vague handle on how things might go, the movie pivots elsewhere. Now, I’m one of those people who likes to find someone in the movie who has a strong personality, not necessarily a good guy but at least someone with whom I may be able to sympathize (to some degree) or to whom I can relate. I didn’t find that to be the case in this film. Let me put it this way – Nick is an arrogant, self-pitying jerk, and Amy is a delusional sociopath. With no rooting interest and no discernable satisfying ending, watching the movie was a tedious experience.
Nick is questioned by Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens), and a missing-persons report is immediately followed. Nick’s not sure whether his wife has friends, or what her blood type is, or what she does during the day, all of which cast doubt on his innocence. A press conference is held. A hotline is set up. A midnight vigil is held. All standard operating procedure for a missing-persons case that’s less than a day old. But with a real lack of other suspects or motives, the court of public opinion shortly turns against Nick. He’s no longer the grieving husband (and son-in-law) but the conniving gold digger with all the necessary reasons for orchestrating his wife’s demise. Plus, he has this attitude that oscillates between smug and defensive.
The first half of the movie seems rather inert; the audience ping pongs between believing Nick is a villain. There are multiple reasons that indicate he’s not all that innocent, although the bottom line is that he’s just not a nice guy, and that’s reason enough for the cable-TV crowd. After the police turn on Nick as well, a Nancy Grace impressionist (Missi Pyle) calls for his head. Nick turns to high-powered attorney Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), who advises him to appear on the show of an Oprah Winfrey copycat (Sela Ward). Affleck, through Nick, then turns in his best acting job while pretending to show contrition and humility on the television show.
Gone Girl first asks us to imagine that Nick is blameless, planting the idea that the attack was staged, and then asks us to believe that Amy is just an innocent naif who’s on the run from an abusive husband, and then asks us to pity Nick, and then Amy, and so on. The entire movie, although based on a book by Gillian Flynn (who also wrote the screenplay), feels like a Lifetime movie that is itself ripped from tabloid headlines.
We do finally get Amy’s side of the story, but her situation and intention aren’t terribly compelling. She’s a meticulous planner, to the point where, in voiceover, she explains in minute detail every step in her scheme. The amount of organization is to be admired – except that later in the movie, she makes a mistake that would have been easily prevented by even a modicum of advance thinking. I found it hard to believe that someone who had gone to such great lengths to achieve her goal would be undone so effortlessly.
Ben Affleck has played so many arrogant, smug, condescending jerks in his career that it’s hard to imagine him as a vulnerable, mild-mannered guy. In the hands of a more capable actor, the role of Nick Dunne may have become much more nuanced, but instead we get a colorless, stereotypical performance by one of Hollywood’s top leading men. It’s a true shame, because he’s surrounded by excellent performances – particularly by Carrie Coon, who plays his acerbic sister Margo, and Dickens. Both women turn make their characters layered, thoughful, and ultimately intriguing. This contrasts sharply with Affleck’s dismissive, distant style.
This normally would be the kind of movie I’d love. The premise asks the question of what has happened to Amy Dunne. A mystery is afoot! But this mystery is solved within the first third of the movie, and the remainder of the film is endless filler. We’re teased several times in the final third that this could finally be it, the ending. But it’s not. It never is. Even the ending isn’t an ending. According to reports, Flynn changed the ending of the script so that readers of the book wouldn’t know what was coming. I’m not sure that ploy works, because there is no finale to speak of. There is no twist, just a longer piece of twine.
Gone Girl: **