Movie review: Gone Girl plays a misanthropic game of LIFE | Arts

Movie review: Gone Girl plays a misanthropic game of LIFE

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Ben Affleck as freeloading philanderer Nick Dunne in Gone Girl - PHOTO BY MERRICK MORTON / COURTESY 20TH CENTURY FOX AND REGENCY ENTERPRISES
  • photo by Merrick Morton / courtesy 20th Century Fox and Regency Enterprises
  • Ben Affleck as freeloading philanderer Nick Dunne in Gone Girl
Gone Girl
★★★
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The byzantine plot turns of Gone Girl are forecast during the film’s opening moments. Kept man Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) strolls into the hometown Missouri bar he runs—named “The Bar,” just because—to visit bartending sister Margo (Carrie Coon). He comes carrying the board game “Mastermind,” which Go (as Nick calls her) tosses onto the tavern’s collection: Emergency!, Let’s Make a Deal and The Game of Life.

“What’s the point again?” Nick asks about LIFE after landing on the space requiring him to get married. Director David Fincher spends rest of the film proving that the answer to Nick’s question is self-evident, crafting novelist Gillian Flynn’s best-selling potboiler into a pulpy stew of commentary on everything from marriage to modern media and elitism. However, instead of dissecting these provocations, Gone Girl is satisfied with stylish regurgitation.

Erstwhile lovebirds Nick and Amy (Rosamund Pike) are in the fifth year of a decaying marriage. Amy’s family wealth and successful children’s book series support Nick’s failed writing career and low-paying college teaching job. Their relationship is further strained when they move from New York City to Missouri to care for Nick’s dying mother.

On their anniversary, Nick returns home to an ajar front door, shattered glass and a missing Amy, who left a series of envelopes labeled “Clue” to steer Nick (or someone) on a revelatory path. Days of futile searches, awkward press conferences and candlelight vigils give way to a suspicious police detective (Kim Dickens)—if nothing else, this film will have husbands scampering to memorize their wife’s blood type. Once Nick’s ongoing affair with a randy student becomes public, popular opinion and media scrutiny turn squarely against him.

In its skewing of modern marriage, Gone Girl combines the rawness of Revolutionary Road with the most stilted discourse this side of Eyes Wide Shut. It’s hard to accept that Nick and Amy were ever in love because their courtship seems so programmed. And we’re spared any incisive examination of motives and consequences, because although Nick is a philandering freeloader, Amy is a sociopathic femme fatale forged from easy stereotypes of the scorned harpy.

Indeed, film noir tropes put Gone Girl in a venerable cinematic lineage, from Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice to modern torchbearers such as Basic Instinct. But Fincher’s stylish shadings portend a gravitas not supported by the source material. While Douglas Sirk melodramas and updates such as Far from Heaven tore the facade off of Eisenhower-era martial idealism, there’s little left to skewer in marriage when the divorce rate long ago crested 50 percent. And despite the film’s wickedly witty undercurrent, it’s difficult to insightfully lampoon such self-parodies as Nancy Grace and tabloid television.

There are decent supporting turns from Neil Patrick Harris as one of Amy’s filthy-rich jilted lovers and Tyler Perry as a charming Johnny Cochran-style defense attorney. The film surpasses Fincher’s lifeless adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as a misanthropic screed on gender dynamics. But Gone Girl’s hyper-cynicism feeds off our modern plight without really illuminating it. It’s a twisty journey, but a rather bored game.

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