Over the years David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, The Social Network) has built up such a reputation as a master director that his name on the marquee is pretty much the only thing a movie needs to sell itself. Gone Girl has more going for it than that though. It’s also got a best-selling Gillian Flynn novel as its source material, and it’s got an intriguing ad campaign that introduces us to a couple played by Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, has Pike’s character mysteriously disappear, and then puts Affleck’s through the wringer as the news media turns him into the primary suspect. What happened to this man’s wife? Is he truly the good person that he projects himself as being when in the public eye, or does the handful of dark secrets he keeps behind closed doors point to the fact that he might have done something sinister? It’s a good mystery, but it only makes for about half of the story.
The problem with writing about a movie like Gone Girl is that it goes in so many unexpected places and it relies so heavily on its surprises to be a satisfying moviegoing experience that you can’t really talk about much of anything without ruining said experience. To even say anything about Pike’s performance would give away too much about her character’s fate, which is the uncertainty that everything gets built around. What should be said though is that the second half of the film, which is where all the twists start taking place, is completely different in tone than the first half, which is the material used in the advertising. Gone is a grounded story about the fate of real people and suddenly in its place is soap opera melodrama involving characters who behave far too insanely for you to maintain any real attachment to. Gone Girl’s true intentions are eventually revealed to be to stun the audience with ridiculous twists, and then to needle them with matters of gender politics that are sure to fan the flames of a good number of post-movie arguments. How one responds to all of the pulpy weirdness will likely come down to the individual and how engaged they found themselves with that first half of the film that proves to be a fake-out.
Fincher’s established aesthetic and that master craftsman’s touch that he brings to everything he makes are both on full display here, he’s gotten strong performances out of all the featured members of his cast, and he’s commissioned Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor to compose another moody score that increases the tension of everything that’s happening on the screen, but when I walked away from having seen Gone Girl, I left not astounded by the work of all of these talented artists, but instead wondering what it was about this silly story that was able to draw them all together in the first place. Taking the ride that is Gone Girl is engaging in the moment, but afterward I couldn’t help but feel like all of the dour gravity of the first act and the pedigrees of the artists involved had tricked me into watching something trashy and dumb—like if I went to a fancy restaurant and the Chef’s Special turned out to be Frito pie. I’ll eat the junk food, sure, but next time I’d appreciate a little more transparency in the menu. Expectation can be everything when it comes to how you respond to a film.