Appearance is Everything in 'Gone Girl'

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Still the bomb in Phantoms
Still the bomb in Phantoms, yo

 

Gone Girl appears to be a murder mystery upon initial inspection. The trailers advertise David Fincher and Gillian Flynn’s film as a murder mystery. Did Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) kill his wife? Is Tyler Perry really involved in a Fincher project? Is there another dead hooker in Affleck’s trailer? Gone Girl isn’t the story of what happened to Amy Elliott-Dunne (Rosamund Pike), but rather a study who the hell Amy is. It’s a film about deception and perception. What does the world see through the lens of the media and what is real?

The casting plays into this. Rosamund Pike just has the look of a tragic, lost wife. Pike isn’t someone you’d expect to eventually find to be a psychotic con artist. She has an innocent face, which works for the misdirection. Pike’s strongest points in Gone Girl come after the deception has been revealed.

The mischievous, psychotic true Amy brings a certain dark humor with her. Her disdain for the people she’s used comes out in a sneering, cathartic voiceover. The duplicitous Mrs. Dunne has an edge and is very different than the woman she presents herself as in her false journal. Unearthing the ugliness inside reveals a far more interesting character that’s desperately looking for control. Amy is resentfulof her fictional counterpart. Her life always looked so perfect as her mother gave Amazing Amy everything that real Amy didn’t get growing up. She screws with people just so she can finally be the one playing god.

Ben Affleck seems appropriate for the role of a frustrated husband who had finally had enough of his crappy marriage. Affleck’s charming, yet shifty looks and demeanor are used early on to paint a picture of Nick Dunne as a smug bastard. It’s not totally convincing that Dunne did the dirty deed. The film leaves it ambiguous. His relief about his wife’s disappearance isn’t malicious, so much as it is a natural reaction. Nick refuses to wear the mask of grief for the media. Affleck’s dopey look is reminiscent of real life murderous husbands, like Scott Peterson. It’s a great role for an often maligned actor. Nick Dunne doesn’t act like he actually murdered his wife, but he’s got the look of someone that leaves that doubt lingering in your mind.

The film boasts some surprises in the supporting cast. Affleck has outstanding chemistry with Carrie Coon, who plays his twin sister, Margo. It’s a crucial role, as Margo is Nick’s rock. She naturally pulls off the camaraderie and disappointment that one has with a close sibling. Gone Girl wouldn’t work as well as it does without nailing this role.

Tyler Perry is very good as Nick’s big shot lawyer, Tanner Bolt. Perry brings some levity to the film and doesn’t oversell the role. Playing a popular lawyer can easily veer off into Jackie Chiles territory. It was a huge relief to see that Perry, he of the 5,000 or so Madea movies, didn’t go for a borderline parody character.

Kim Dickens does fine work as Detective Rhonda Boney. Her calm demeanor works well off of Patrick Fugit’s regular police officer, who declares Nick guilty from day 1. Neil Patrick Harris is decent as Amy’s supposed stalker of an ex, Desi Collings. The character might have been more effective if they had gone with someone a bit creepier. It’s unclear if the audience is meant to pity Collings as he’s used by Amy. That NPH just seems like such a darn nice fella.

Everything feels a bit off throughout Gone Girl, especially in the first half of the film. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ soundtrack contributes to that with its use of subtle, odd sounds. The music wasn’t particularly noticeable, even less so than their previous Fincher collaborations on The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The soundtrack may be too subtle at times, but it accomplishes its goal of making everything just a bit unsettling.

Gone Girl isn’t the flashiest or best Fincher film. It doesn’t have the procedural intrigue of Zodiac, the shock value of Seven, the manic energy of Fight Club, or the Sorkin-ness of The Social Network. It is an interesting look at identity, specifically the faces we put on in public versus what we are behind closed doors. If it shares DNA with a Fincher project, it’s the American version of House of Cards, which he produces. Amy Elliott-Dunne desires a public life just as real as any politician’s. Put on a big smile for the cameras, Nick, and everything will be just fine.

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