Christopher Orr sets up the story of David Fincher’s new movie, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel:
Like the book, the film tells its story, for a while at least, in the form of two interwoven strands of he-said/she-said: the narrative DNA of an unraveling marriage. We watch as Nick [Dunne (played by Ben Affleck)], on the morning of the couple’s fifth anniversary, goes to the bar he co-manages with his sister, Margo (Carrie Coon), for a far-too-early whiskey. When he returns to his home—a lifeless McMansion in depressed North Carthage, Missouri—his wife [Amy (Rosamund Pike)] is missing, and there are signs of a struggle. He calls the police, and two detectives (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) arrive to conduct an investigation that leads, inevitably, to Nick himself. Does he seem insufficiently concerned about Amy’s disappearance? How can he be so clueless regarding her daily life? Why doesn’t he even know her blood type? And what’s with that shit-eating grin he seems incapable of suppressing?
The film has some critics applauding:
Some people said that this was a film that only Mr Fincher, the director of “Seven” and “The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo”, could have done well. They were right. Mr Fincher has managed to pace this perfectly, showcasing snippets of scenes before ruthlessly cutting away and moving on to the next.
“Gone Girl” isn’t Mr Fincher’s best film. It suffers from too many of the same flaws as the novel: a tendency towards absurdity that undermines its granular observations about the reality of domestic life. And yet this could be Mr Fincher’s most exemplary film. He is known for his cold, clever precision, and “Gone Girl” is ever so cold, ever so precise. It is drowning in muted colours and a sense of inevitability. Like Ms Flynn’s novel, its cleverness lies in the fact that it is so raw and yet so empty at the same time. This may not be the perfect film—but it is a perfect adaptation.
In a review that merits a mild spoiler alert, Kevin Fallon goes wild over Affleck’s performance:
[W]hen Gone Girl’s famous mid-point twist arrives, Affleck’s performance zings with sudden energy as Nick transforms from douchebag to Erin Brockovich, diving into the case of Amy’s disappearance (of sorts) himself. Critics often describe the kind of barreling, madcap work Affleck does in the second and third acts of the film as a “wild ride,” and, truly, the one Affleck goes on could not be more entertaining to watch. By the time he lands the line reading of the year—“you fucking bitch”—at the film’s climax, you’re a fool not to erupt in applause: As it turns out, Ben Affleck, star of Gigli and survivor of Bennifer, is a fantastic actor.
Andrew O’Hehir finds Affleck’s “bland characterization … a weak spot,” but heaps praise on Pike’s acting:
Pike may well get an Oscar nomination for this performance, and I daresay she deserves it, but not because Amy resembles a human being. She resembles about six of them, as if Amy were a female archetype splintered into overlapping and competing personalities by the pressure of trying to live up to her beauty, her blondness, her wealth and her “love affair” with the “perfect guy.”
An unimpressed Ryan Gilbey, however, suggests that Fincher – who used to direct commercials and music videos – here “is falling back on his skills as an adman.” Meanwhile, David Thomson sneers that the film “is not just a stepping stone in Fincher’s absorption in misanthropy, but a willful plunging off its cliff”:
Fincher is fifty-two, and one longs to see him reaching out for more than cruelty. Yet, somehow character and intelligence have not emerged. You may know a film is Fincher from the snap of his film-making and its remorseless, depressive view of human situations, but there is no sense of these criminal melodramas amounting to a portrait of the world as a whole. Gone Girl promises to be an unnerving portrait of marriage as ruin, but then it opts for madness and implausibility. Can he find himself and keep working within the mainstream? I’m not sure, and I remain uncertain as to whether he is simply a glittering craftsman in compelling but sometimes self-satisfied pessimism.
Matt Zoller Seitz agrees that “the director is a misanthrope, no question,” but maintains that “misanthropes can be entertaining”:
The most intriguing thing about “Gone Girl” is how droll it is. For long stretches, Fincher’s gliding widescreen camerawork, immaculate compositions and sickly, desaturated colors fuse with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s creepy-optimistic synthesized score to create a perverse big-screen version of one of those TV comedies built around a pathetically unobservant lump of a husband and his hypercontrolling, slightly shrewish wife. For most of its running time, “Gone Girl” is “Everybody Loves Accused Wife-Murderer Raymond,” sprinkled with colorful-verging-on-wacky supporting players (including Tyler Perry as a Johnnie Cochran-like defense attorney and Neil Patrick Harris as a former flame of Amy’s who’s still obsessed with her). Then it takes a right turn, and a left turn, and flips upside down.
Dana Stevens questions how the film handles gender roles:
There’s no way to wade into the stickier wickets of Fincher and Flynn’s gender politics without giving away large chunks of the mystery plot. But there are moments, several of them, in which Nick’s unsavory feelings about his complicated missing wife and about women in general—feelings that might be charitably summed up as “bitches be crazy”—seem indistinguishable from the filmmaker’s own vision of Amy as a black hole of ineffable female needs, moods, and desires. Does this make Gone Girl a sexist movie? A movie about sexism that isn’t fully in control of its tone? Or some unholy hybrid of the two?
David Edelstein also wonders about how the film represents women:
I can’t leave Gone Girl without going back to its depiction of women, though here I risk the dreaded “spoiler.” (Stop reading if you wish.) The timing for a film that features instances of trumped-up sexual assaults could hardly be worse, and while it’s nowhere near as extreme as Fatal Attraction—which discredited feminist shibboleths by putting them in the mouth of a psychopath—the movie, like the novel, plays to the stereotype of weak men entrapped by pretend-helpless women. The Spider Woman is, of course, a noir archetype, and I’m not prepared to renounce my affection for Double Indemnity and its ilk. But I can’t say those movies don’t have real-world consequences, and coming in the middle of mounting outrage over the pervasiveness of sexual abuse, I’d hate to see the likes of Rush Limbaugh buoyed by the film’s bloodcurdling specimen of a predatory slut. For the rest of us, it’s preferable to view Gone Girl as a profoundly cynical portrait of all sides of all relationships: First you’re blind to the truth of other people, then you see and wish you could go back to being blind. See it with your sweetie!
Alissa Wilkinson insists “this is not a movie about modern marriage at all”:
[I]t is about surfaces and images that we project to one another, but it’s a farce, a movie that takes our silliest ideas about what constitutes a marriage and slams them against the wall repeatedly till they go insane. There’s a lot that’s wrong with a lot of marriages, and plenty to criticize about how we approach marriage. But seriously: this movie does not take place in our universe, or at least, it stops being our universe when they walk through the door of their house. It is, if anything, about one truly messed-up marriage that is so messed up not because of ordinary human flaws, but something like psychosis, maybe.
And Anthony Lane has a similar take:
“Gone Girl” is meant to inspire debates about whether Amy is victimized or vengeful, and whether Nick deserves everything he gets, but, really, who cares? All I could think of was the verdict of Samuel Butler on Thomas Carlyle: “It was very good of God to let Carlyle and Mrs. Carlyle marry one another, and so make only two people miserable and not four.” Or, in the words of Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), Nick’s unflappable attorney: “You two are the most fucked-up people I have ever met, and I specialize in fucked-up people.”