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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Gone Girl, Review: Come guys, meet the murderous, disappeared, kidnapped, psychopath

Gone Girl, Review: Murderous, disappeared, kidnapped, psychopath

It’s not a bird, it’s not a plane, it’s not Superman; it’s a scheming, vengeful, plotting, suicidal, murderous, ‘gone’ wife.

Gone Girl, directed by David Fincher and based upon the bestselling novel by Gillian Flynn, read by many Indians too, unearths the secrets at the heart of a modern American marriage, one marriage that could typify many more. On the occasion of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) reports that his beautiful wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), has gone missing. Under pressure from Amy’s doting parents, the police, and a growing media hyper-hype, Nick’s portrait of a blissful wedded life begins to crumble. Soon, his lies, deceits and strange behavior prompt almost everyone to ask the same dark question: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife and dispose-off the body? 

Author Gillian Flynn has happy memories of having A Wrinkle in Time pried from her hands at the dinner table, and also of seeing Alien, Psycho and Bonnie and Clyde at a questionable age (like, seven). Flynn’s novel tells the story of Nick and Amy Dunne's difficult marriage, which is floundering for several reasons. The first half of the book is told in first person, alternately, by both Nick and Amy; Nick's perspective is from the present, and Amy's from the past, by way of her diary entries. The two stories are very different. Amy's account of their marriage makes her seem happier and easier to live with than Nick depicts. Nick's story, on the other hand, talks about her as extremely anti-social and stubborn. Amy's depiction makes Nick seem a lot more aggressive than he says he is in his story.


Nick loses his job as a journalist due to downsizing. The couple relocate from New York City to his small hometown of North Carthage, Missouri, in part, so the couple can help care for his dying mother. He opens a bar, using the last of his wife's trust fund, and runs it with his twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon). The bar provides a decent living for the three Dunnes, but the marriage becomes more dysfunctional. Amy loved her life in New York and hates what she considers the soulless "McMansion" which she and Nick rent.

On their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing. Nick becomes a prime suspect in her disappearance for various reasons: he used her money to start the bar, increased her life insurance, and seems unemotional and dead-pan on TV cameras and in the news. The police later find boxes of violent pornography in Nick's woodshed, further implicating him.

In the three ‘act’ novel's second act, the reader learns Amy and Nick are unreliable narrators and that the reader has not been given all of the information. Nick has been having an affair and Amy is alive and hiding, trying to frame Nick for her "death". Her diary is fake, intended to implicate Nick to the police. It is about here that Flynn decided to rework the novel for the screenplay, also credited to her. She told the press, “There was something thrilling about taking this piece of work that I’d spent about two years painstakingly putting together with all its eight million LEGO pieces, and take a hammer to it, and bash it apart, and reassemble it into a movie…” Affleck was shocked by it. He would say, ‘This is a whole new third act! She literally threw that third act out and started from scratch.’

Written in thriller style, it is full of ingredients that have been very cleverly woven in. These include a race against time, the timings of the events themselves, a treasure-hunt that carries clues planted to frame the protagonist, foreseeing events and predicting human behaviour to perfection, a poker faced comic sub-plot involving a male and a female police officer, another involving a robber couple at a motel, remarkable attention to detail and marvellous use of subjective flashback.

‘Where it goes overboard is in the basic premise itself: can events and behavior be predicted so accurately and can a couple in love (later in a marriage) fail to see the pretence of each other even after years of living together? Also, the series of co-incidences, though craftily introduced as logical developments, remain co-incidences. Though you are learn that Amy learnt the ‘tricks of the trade’ from texts and the Internet, the odds of her being able to pull off what she does pull off, using a failsafe, foolproof ans zero error plan, would be near zero.

Director David Fincher is a sought after commercial, music video and feature film director.  Starting his career in music videos, David went on to work with some of the world’s most influential artistes, such as Madonna, Michael Jackson and The Rolling Stones. He’s directed ad campaigns for Nike, Adidas, Motorola and Heineken. David has several Oscar nominations to his name, for films that include Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac, The Social Network, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Fincher has an inspired cast at his call and takes a firm grip on the narrative. Pace never slackens and the mysterious plot remains engrossing in spite of so many ‘revelations’ along the way. Editing is brilliantly used, with many overlapping shots carrying over seamlessly.

On first look, it is Rosamund Pike’s film, as you actually sympathise with this psychopathic character, but co-star Affleck holds his own by under-playing and emerging as a light grey character, against Pike’s dark grey, even black. She confides in the camera with confident camaraderie, while he puts up a disarming, ambivalent exterior. Tyler Perry as the lawyer enjoys himself, while Carrie Coon as Margo raises some laughs. Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit, the police-duo, raise some more laughs. Due credit also goes to Emily Ratajkowski, as the over-sexed Andie, and Neil Patrick Harris and Scott McNairy, as the two former boy-friends of Amy, particularly Harris, who keeps you guessing about his intentions.

Is Gone Girl a thriller or murder mystery or a battle of the sexes or a feminist’s crusade for life/death on her terms or anatomy of an apparently normal marriage or a con game or satire on mutual deception or a DIY kit on disappearance-suicide-murder-kidnapping or a CKD (completely knocked down) reworking of Kurosawa’s Japanese classic, Rashomon or…?

Don’t cloud your mind in advance with such profound pigeon-holing. See the film first. All the analyses can be done at leisure.

Are you still there? Or have you Gone Girl (gone to the cinema-hall, that is; either alone or with someone who is in good Nick).

Rating: ***1/2 (I had decided on four, but in the END, I deducted 1/2 a star).  


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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