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Fincher’s ‘Gone Girl’ an effective, tight-lipped thriller with bite

By Andrew Fishman / Staff Writer

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“Gone Girl”

Directed by: David Fincher

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris

Grade: B+ 

In film, the characters often know less than the audience, because the audience has the privilege of seeing everything that goes on in the narrative. But when the audience is purposely left out of some aspects of the narrative, it can make for a thrilling experience. 

“Gone Girl” puts the latter method to the test and succeeds, as viewers know just as little as protagonist Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) does about the mystery of his missing wife. The film intrigues throughout by not allowing us to know everything going on until the characters know. 

When Nick’s wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), disappears on the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary, a simple missing person’s case quickly escalates to a prolonged murder investigation — with Nick as the primary suspect. Nick seeks help from his sister, Margo (Carrie Coon), as well as lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), to not only help defend himself from police and the community, but also to figure out if there is more behind the disappearance than everyone else seems to think. 

The film is essentially divided into two parts. It begins with the initial investigation, paired with flashbacks triggered by Amy’s diary entries, which show how she met Nick, along with the ups and downs of their young marriage. Through the flashbacks, the audience begins to see a building strain in Nick and Amy’s relationship that correlates with a cinematic escalation in tension, a shift within the concern over Amy’s whereabouts and an increased suspicion of Nick.

This first half culminates with the audience and the main characters in the film uncovering a full explanation behind Amy’s disappearance — and it’s a shock. The second half, without giving too much of the mystery away, feels like an entirely different movie, as the plot reveals more twists and motivations. 

Director David Fincher (“Fight Club,” “The Social Network”) excels more than ever, leading viewers into an increasingly dark mystery similar to his second film “Seven,” which followed a tense serial murder case. “Gone Girl” succeeds at building tension through its use of heartbeat pulses over the film’s score followed by silences, as well as manipulating the audience by drastically shifting the plot throughout. 

Gone Girl” is based on the book by Gillian Flynn, who also wrote the screenplay of the film. But the two have some differences, especially in terms of the narrative structure. The book’s structure is more linear, depriving readers the suspenseful nescience that makes the film so thrilling. If the film followed the sequential order of the book, it would greatly diminish the turbulence. 

Both Affleck and Pike deliver memorable performances, but the complex nature of Pike’s character allows her to thrive even more. The flashbacks allow viewers to see Amy’s full transformation, and Pike evolves with Amy throughout the movie. Affleck also transforms along with Nick throughout the story, but his shift isn’t as radical or impressive as Pike’s. 

Two notable characters in the film are Nick’s lawyer, Tanner Bolt, and Amy’s crazed ex-boyfriend, Desi, played by Perry and Neil Patrick Harris, respectively. Neither actor is associated with a very serious role, let alone the drama genre itself, and both struggle to break out of their comedic rut. Perry’s character, a smooth-talking, wealthy lawyer, allows a bit more room for comedy than Harris’ — a stalker ex-boyfriend of Amy. 

It was sometimes difficult to take either of them seriously, especially Harris. The nature of the movie makes one question the decision to cast these particular actors, because of their more lighthearted backgrounds, for the roles. While viewers are supposed to see a crazy ex and a rich lawyer, they appear more as Barney Stinson and a character from a Perry-presented movie. 

Dialogue was another weak point of the film. Although it successfully took a perhaps far-fetched plot and made it feel realistic, some of the script held back the realism. Cheesy one-liners and forced interactions almost spoiled an otherwise enthralling plot. 

Criticism of the media in big cases like Amy’s disappearance was one of the film’s underlying themes. Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle), a Nancy Grace-esque television host, is a rather influential part of the investigation for someone in the media. Throughout the film, she flip-flops her views to coincide with the current popular stance regarding Amy’s disappearance — an over-the-top move that mocks media outlets such as CNN, TMZ or, more recently, ESPN, regarding their coverage of national investigations. 

“Gone Girl” revolves around the idea of manipulation — in terms of the media, in terms of Fincher and Flynn’s manipulation of the audience, as well as in everyday interactions with both strangers and loved ones. The film might make viewers doubt the validity of what people say to them on a daily basis and leave them with a chilling sensation of questioning their own interactions in both the past and the future.

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Fincher’s ‘Gone Girl’ an effective, tight-lipped thriller with bite