Amanda Seyfried shines, but 'Gone' is one to skip

Amanda Seyfried does a good job with a difficult role, but the film's plot is unsatisfying.

Dan Steinberg/FRE/AP
Amanda Seyfried stars in 'Gone' as Jill, who says her sister has been kidnapped.

Amanda Seyfried stars in Gone as Jill, a troubled young girl who is the supposed survivor of a twisted abduction and murder attempt by a serial killer no one believes exists. Due to her extreme ordeal, Jill lives as a rattled and suspicious pill-popping loner, whose only friend is her recovering alcoholic sister, Molly (Emily Wickersham). One night after Jill is working a night shift as a waitress at the local diner, she comes home to find Molly gone, though the house is seemingly undisturbed but for a few small details, like a missing photo and discarded earring.

The police who investigated Jill’s alleged abduction could never find evidence to back her story, so they have even less reason to believe that Molly has been taken by the same figment killer, who would be ostensibly risking exposure just to finish off the one escaped girl. The detectives tell Jill to back off and settle down, but she does just the opposite (surprise) and goes on the hunt herself. Before long, she’s searching the streets of Portland wild-eyed and waving a gun, inviting both a police manhunt to bring her in, and the widespread view that she is a mental case.

But if Jill is right, and there is a predator in their midst, then she may be all that stands between Molly and a brutal, gruesome death.

Gone is an attempt to make a modern B-movie thriller in the style of classic Film Noir, by filmmakers who don’t quite have the insight or judgement to pull off such a feat. The script was written by Allison Burnett, who penned other half-cooked mystery/thrillers like Untraceable and Underworld Awakening. Burnett’s Noir narrative is full of  heavy-handed contrivances and awkwardly composed scenes, stilted dialogue and cheap red herrings. One could almost make a drinking game out of the amount of times this film will have you rolling your eyes at what has just happened or been said onscreen.

Director Heitor Dhalia (Adrift) makes matters worse by trying to infuse things with a classic Noir style he is far from proficient in. If you are well-versed in the Film Noir sub-genre you’ll find many of the familiar tropes present and accounted for: the addled sleuth (Seyfried); the sharp camera angles and interplay of light and shadow to create a menacing world around the protagonist; odd-looking actors playing the working-class types the sleuth runs across, shot at sloped angles to make them look more suspicious or sinister, and the general sense that this world is gritty, dark and full of immoral types at every turn.

What Gone manages to prove is that classic Noir style looks silly when presented straightforwardly in a modern context. Homages to classic cinema need to be winking and self-referencing, allowing the audience in on the fact that the oddball stylistic choices are in fact a purposeful reference. Seeing it represented in this kind of way just comes off as a failed experiment. The resolution of the mystery is unsatisfying and full of so many logical gaps that it is hard to say whether it holds together at all. The character arc for Jill goes to pieces towards the end, when the movie tries one final pivot between the questions of  ’Is she crazy, is she not crazy?’ only to fizzle out into a bizarre and unceremonious ending.

Besides those massive disappointments, one of the more vexing things about Gone is its fumbling of red herrings that add nothing to the story except cheap (and totally irrelevant) distractions. As this Noir tale follows a female sleuth, there are no traditional femme fatale characters, and instead American Beauty star Wes Bentley and Captain America star Sebastian Stan play two potential “homme fatale” types (a rookie cop and Molly’s boyfriend, respectively) whose arcs ultimately go nowhere at all, making them completely arbitrary additions to film.

Another reviewer in my screening was thoroughly vexed and perplexed by one particularly flagrant empty red herring (Mild Spoiler): in the middle of the film, one of our “homme fatales” disappears in order to supposedly ‘bring soup to his sick mother’ – a blatant and obvious excuse to create suspicion about his whereabouts and actions, one would naturally assume. Only, in a movie like Gone, that red herring is ultimately discarded (after a lot of screen time) as the character reappears in the background of a later shot (no explanation, just standing there), and we are only left to assume that he actually did disappear to bring soup to his sick mother. A moment like that would be hilarious in a parody film, but is funny for all the wrong reasons when presented seriously.

For her part, Amanda Seyfried does a fine job playing the difficult role of a girl who is either crazy and or legitimately panicked, while still being sharp enough to put connect clues, deduce facts, outwit pursuers, and solve a crime an entire police force could not. The role itself is ridiculous, but Seyfried has talent enough to keep it grounded. Here’s hoping she gets lands in better projects going forward.

In the end, Gone is a movie that should’ve been released in the straight-to-DVD market where it belongs. As a rental, I would probably give it two stars; but as a movie you’re  being asked to pay theater prices to watch? Well, see our rating below. (1.5 stars)

Kofi Outlaw blogs at Screen Rant.

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