I’m in general overall agreement with Mister Tee and Sabin on Gone Girl, in finding it an unsurprisingly well-made movie with some interesting elements, but also enough narrative issues that prevent it from achieving the level of greatness of David Fincher’s best work. What’s interesting though, is how those issues seem to vary. And, of course, I too must announce…
THERE WILL BE MAJOR SPOILERS IN THE NEXT FEW PARAGRAPHS, INCLUDING DISCUSSION OF THE BIG TWIST, SO CONSIDER YOURSELF FULLY WARNED THAT THE ENTIRE PLOT WILL BE SPOILED IF YOU READ MUCH FURTHER.
Now that that’s out of the way…
I thought the movie opened pretty solidly, establishing the tension between the current issues plaguing the Affleck/Pike marriage, and contrasting those with her memories of happier times. I found Pike most especially interesting in this section -- she just radiates charm in the flashbacks, but her voice-over conveys another, more cool and distant persona, which adds a good bit of complexity to these early passages. (It also morbidly suggests she might well be narrating this from the afterlife.) When the mystery plot kicks into gear, it does so with great efficiency, with a lot of interesting clues and loose ends that seem to provide the movie with a lot of compelling directions in which it might take its twisty plot.
Does the movie deliver on this promise? Well, that’s a tough question, because I think it does and it doesn’t. The big issue I had in the first portion of the movie was quite simply the fact that, despite not having read the novel, and not knowing a thing about its plot aside from what appeared in the trailer, I figured out the Big Twist way before that plot reveal occurred. I’m not trying to toot my own horn in terms of predictive power here -- it’s very possible that simply knowing this was a movie with SPOILER ALERT slapped over the top of every review had me cued to look out for potential twists from the get-go -- but I’m not sure that was entirely the issue. The friend I saw the movie with told me that Affleck’s character on the page seemed far more shady; in her opinion, the novel created a character in that first portion who very well might have murdered his wife. But on screen, I didn’t much think that was the case -- everything about the character as written and acted fit right into the falsely accused wrong man template, and once Affleck started following the clues Pike left him, I just assumed she’d tauntingly lead him toward the revelation that she set him up. Obviously, everyone’s opinion on this subject will be personal -- no one can really tell you what you will and will not find predictable -- but I can only say I wasn’t as blown away at a surprise level as many were when they read the book.
I also had issues with some of the logistics of this twist. Pike assumed leaving a clue and changing the security code at the dad’s house would OBVIOUSLY lead the cops toward the diary hidden in the furnace in the basement? Sorry, but I think the chances of that diary getting found are pretty low, and she was resting a rather big amount of her plan on that. And I thought the amount of screen time given to the credit card purchases hidden in the wood shed seemed out proportion to their actual relevance, when confirmation of Affleck’s already-assumed credit card debt didn’t exactly provide any proof of foul play.
All of this being said, I was still glad the story went where it did, because, unlike Mister Tee, I thought what compromises the second act was just about the most interesting stuff in the narrative. Once the ruthlessness of Pike’s plan is revealed, she becomes almost a Hitchcockian antihero -- you know she deserves her comeuppance, but a part of you thinks she was just so damn cunning (and so wronged by Affleck’s philandering) that you root for her to get away with it just the same. I was completely on board for the way this story turn deepened her character and propelled the plot into a new direction. And then, I liked that she isn’t revealed to be some kind of flawless mastermind -- she makes a pretty big mistake that torpedoes her plan, and I enjoyed that it came not from anything she did wrong in the Affleck frame-up, but from her own desire to reach out for human connection on the road. (A girl can be gone, but it’s pretty difficult for any person to completely give up on others entirely, and it struck me on a thematic level just how many characters in the movie get in big trouble for seeking out the company of people they obviously know they shouldn’t.)
I similarly felt Affleck’s character became a whole lot more interesting in this chunk too, as he develops a vengeful vindictiveness to go along with increasing fears over the legal trouble that could come his way. And by this point, I was admiring how the writer had crafted two characters with multiple facets to their personalities, both of which I was rooting for (or against) depending on the scene, and sometimes even within the same scene.
But I thought the plot line took a bit of a left turn near the end, and never really recovered to a degree I found satisfying. Once the movie’s violent murder occurs, I lost any sympathy I had for Pike -- suddenly she just seemed like a crazy bitch who had no problem slaughtering an old flame whose biggest crime seemed to be that he was just too damn clingy. Everything that had been psychologically interesting about her character up to that point just went out the window, and she basically just became a raging sociopath. And I had no idea what I was supposed to think about her returning to Affleck, or his decision to stay with her -- it just didn’t seem to make any sense that after going to such wild extremes trying to put him away, she’d still want a life with him (or even that trapping him in such a marriage would protect her in away way). And for him, I’m supposed to buy that his devotion to his unborn child is enough for him to stay married to the lunatic who hatched such a scheme to incarcerate him, or worse? I felt like neither of the main character’s actions resolved in any kind of believable way, and it seemed like after the tremendous experiences both had been through, the story needed to conclude with more of a bang than a whimper.
But, as I said, there’s engaging stuff along the way, and not simply at the plot level. I don’t think the movie has any bravura Fincher sequences, but it’s pretty consistently good looking visually, and clips along at a somewhat unique pace -- I liked the way the film hopped along between plot points, packing a lot of information into its scenes, sometimes not explaining every detail until later in the story. I also found the movie’s sense of humor very interesting -- there’s a point where portions of it start to dip into full-blown satire, and I found that the movie’s snarky take on a lot of elements, from the ridiculous media narrative that forms around a seemingly mundane missing persons case simply due to the notability of the person missing, to the contrast between the New York bourgeoisie and the Midwestern suburbanites (neither of which get off that well by the time the story ends), provided an unexpected layer to the material. Tonally, it is a bit of a mess, but I found the movie's split personalities gave it an appealingly chaotic vibe, to say nothing of the fact that they seem completely appropriate for a movie about characters juggling strikingly different personae.
And the cast, while a fairly odd collection of players to put in the same movie, manages to gel even when they’re tasked with pretty different assignments tonally. I think Pike is the standout -- she simply has the most emotionally charged role, and gets to show a good bit of range -- though I do think the screenplay ultimately lets her down by the finale; I don’t know how any actress would make some of those last scenes believable. Affleck is probably the best he’s ever been as an actor, but I can’t say the role is such a showcase that I’d view him as a top Best Actor candidate, given the festival buzz coming from other places. In support, I agree that Tyler Perry (whose regular oeuvre seems like something I would find beyond insufferable) was quite funny, Neil Patrick Harris found the right combination of obnoxious and endearing, and Missi Pyle is basically a hoot any time she appears on screen (though, for what it’s worth, I met her fairly recently, and this is essentially her real-life personality to a tee. Not that there’s anything wrong with that -- it’s a pretty fun personality.)
My two favorites in the supporting cast were the other two women, though. Kim Dickens’s character doesn’t have a ton of backstory -- I don’t think there’s a beat she has that isn’t procedural -- but I liked a lot of the shadings she brought to the part. She’s tough and determined to put the right person behind bars, but she also isn’t afraid to give Affleck the benefit of the doubt, nor to change her mind when she believes she might have made a mistake. Carrie Coon, on the other hand, actually has very little plot function, but strictly as the movie’s moral touchstone she brings some much-needed heart to the proceedings. (And yes, the brother-sister dynamic between her and Affleck feels hugely believable.) I feel like I’d land more on the “iffy” side of her Oscar prospects at this point -- it seems to me that, while good throughout, she doesn’t have any scene that’s so focused on providing her a showcase -- but at the same time, it’s already October and somebody has to fill those Supporting Actress spots so I wouldn’t count her out.
I think, at the very least, this achieves an Oscar profile similar to that of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo -- Best Actress and a handful of techs, though given the movie’s initial box office success and more enthusiastic critical reception, I would assume a few more high profile nods are in the cards as well. How many will of course depend on how well the rest of the season’s candidates fare once they storm out of the gate.