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A thriller so fixated on red herrings that viewers may stop caring if anyone’s really in danger, Gone is diverting but unlikely to linger long in theaters. It also won’t boost the stock of star Amanda Seyfried, whose single-gear performance doesn’t suggest an aptitude for imperiled-heroine roles.
Seyfried plays Jill, who narrowly escaped death a year ago when a mysterious man abducted her and held her in a well-like hole somewhere in Portland, Oregon’s Forest Park. When investigators found no evidence of the crime after her escape, Jill was institutionalized; since her release she has been obsessed with the case, pestering the police at any hint of a woman’s disappearance. Now her sister Molly has gone missing, leaving Jill to play vigilante in an all-day race to find the kidnapper she’s certain intended to nab her instead.
The movie cues viewers early and often to wonder if Jill is delusional: She invents a pathological-sounding string of lies while gathering information from neighbors; less sinister explanations for Molly’s disappearance sound plausible when coming not just from detectives but Molly’s own boyfriend. But Jill is unwavering — grating, in fact — in her belief, and her follow-the-trail detective work is enjoyable, albeit laughably easy: More than once, the first stranger she asks just happens to know exactly the information she needs.
Is the hunt this easy because it’s all in Jill’s head? Many of the hints the filmmakers throw our way, ranging from a rookie detective’s shifty behavior all the way down to the sound mix of a climactic cell phone call, turn out to be not just playful misdirection but acts of bad faith — clashing with facts that eventually emerge and not explainable as part of any altered psychological state.
Mixed messages continue through to the film’s coda, in which viewers know what’s real and what’s not but still have a hard time understanding Jill’s reasons for doing what she does. Such a pile-up of ambiguity, in the end, looks less like tricksterism than incompetent storytelling.
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