Gone Girl is a movie about two marriages. The first union is between Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike), two out-of-work writers living in small-town Missouri. The second is between director David Fincher and scribe Gillian Flynn. Both Fincher and Flynn are masters of their domain, sharing a knack for precise plotting, macabre stories and finessing those tales with slices of razor sharp comedy. The latter couple is a marriage built to last. The former, not so much.
Nick wakes up one balmy July morning – his five-year wedding anniversary, no less – and heads over to the bar that he runs with his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon). The thirty-something husband returns home to find his dog barking madly, a glass table in his den shattered and his wife gone. Nick is aghast when the two investigators, Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit), suggest that he is a suspect in Amy’s disappearance. It doesn’t quell anybody’s suspicion either when he does not seem too worried or woeful in public appearances, even smirking when photographed next to her “Missing” bulletin.
As in Flynn’s page-turner, Gone Girl alternates between Nick’s present-day perspective during the current mystery, as he quickly becomes the target of tabloid media, and Amy’s past diary entries that chronicle her previous years with Nick. She describes her blissful reaction to meeting him at a party, fooling around in the library and dragging him around town in “treasure hunts” she devised. There reaches a point in both stories where the contrasting narrations – his frustration with the lack of answers to Amy’s case, her growing disgust with the nature of her marriage – reaches a point of sizzling suspense. Here, Flynn throws a big, seemingly preposterous twist at the audience. No worries: this reviewer is not going to reveal any more than necessary.
However, I will spoil this: Gone Girl is thrilling, a quick moving 149-minute ride that does not sacrifice the novel’s nasty, disturbed spirit or complex procedural plot to palate to the needs of a mainstream crowd. With its unreliable narrators, dual perspective narration and comprehensive mystery, Gone Girl may be more of a reader’s dream than a filmmaker’s. Thankfully, Flynn is no slouch as a screenwriter, adapting her own work to be just as unnerving and thought-provoking as her controversial bestseller.
It also helps to have a master on board in the form of David Fincher, who throughout his career, has now directed five film adaptations that came close, met or surpassed their source work. (The other four: Fight Club, Zodiac, The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.) The novel’s wicked humor works wonders for a filmmaker who guides each scene to surgical precision. (The editing comes from Kirk Baxter, who won consecutive Oscars for two of Fincher’s previous films.) Not a moment is wasted or lingered on too long, helping the stabs at various topics – the dirty-minded speculation of a rapt public to the secrets and lies one hides from their partner – remain sharp and potent when the scenes end.
Meanwhile, a montage detailing the intricacies of Amy’s murder scene manages to be both chilling and riveting at once, examining the lay of the location and its various trouble points with the verbal precision of Mark Zuckerberg’s legal doublespeak or a Narrator detailing how his life is ending one minute at a time. If this book were published 50 years ago, Hitchcock would have been a dead ringer for the adaptation’s director’s chair. 20 years ago, Polanski would have been the man. For today, Fincher is just the right guy.
Thankfully, Fincher brings his team of creative collaborators and they assist miraculously. Jeff Cronenweth’s olive-tinted cinematography positions Nick and Amy in wide shots, showing their alienation from the world and, increasingly, each other. Composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s airy, ambient score creates a hollow dread that captures the lack of closure to this tantalizing mystery. As the story moves from intensity to uneasy comedy and back again, the music jots between the twinkle of marriage and a more somber rumble. Even the folks responsible for the opening titles – often a highlight of a Fincher-directed flick – make sure the names vanish just after they appear.
For a movie that deals mostly with how we perform for others, it is appropriate that the acting is excellent. Ben Affleck was perfectly picked to portray a glib womanizer hounded by the press, although he has a bruised humanity that works despite the limitations of the role. Although dim and somewhat emotionally distant, the actor shows dashes of hurt and sorrow that makes one root for him, despite our suspicions.
The standout here, though, is Rosamund Pike. Even though it has been 12 years since she appeared as a Bond girl in Die Another Day, Pike has managed to elude celebrity – the opposite of the actor playing her onscreen husband. With a ghostly complexion and steely grit, playing a woman trying to navigate a stormy marriage, Pike gives a sly, stunning, seductive turn. As Amy looks back at the shadow of her former self in the diary entries, Pike encounters shades of the character that will shake our foundation of how we viewed her at first glance. (Hitchcock would have loved her.) As for the supporting cast, Neil Patrick Harris is too affable for the part of Desi, an old boyfriend of Amy’s who becomes a prime suspect. On the other hand, Tyler Perry is well-cast as a TV-friendly lawyer who wants to take on Nick’s case.
Flynn, meanwhile, manages to tighten her novel into a formidable script. One feat that her adaptation does not quite achieve is reach a level of ambiguity in the first half, when we are trying to figure out the level of Nick’s deception (or if there is any deception at all). She cuts back the novel’s balance of alternating chapters with Nick and Amy’s narration to put more of an emphasis on the former here, which creates more agency with the protagonist when there should be distance. As a result of slimming down the first half, she pounces a bit early on her story’s boldest plot development, which appears just over an hour in. Folks, if you do not want it spoiled, make your way to a movie house as soon as you can.
Still, Flynn’s knowledge of pop culture (she worked as a TV columnist for Entertainment Weekly) makes for a couple of sharply observant jokes about the media and police procedurals. In a few scenes, though, members of the cast have a hard time nailing her punchy, darkly funny dialogue. Coons and Pike get the tone best, while Affleck occasionally mumbles through a wicked one-liner.
Few directors make labyrinthine whodunits that are as cold, complex and firmly in the filmmaker’s control as Fincher – see Seven, Zodiac and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for proof. The director loves puzzles and Flynn has given him a dazzling one to tease and tantalize an audience with. Gone Girl is one of the fall’s most deliciously nasty treats. Hypnotic and taut, even over a 149-minute span, it fits almost perfectly within his filmography, of titles with neat-minded characters and settings hiding a messy wallop of sex, rage and violence.