David Fincher has made movies about hackers, schizophrenics, serial killers, and even acid-spewing aliens with a taste for human flesh. Dangerous as they are, none of them measure up to the lying, manipulative, and frankly, sick people at the heart of Gone Girl. Fincher’s latest thriller may not express the technical proficiency of Seven, the sprawling narrative of Zodiac, or the acidic wit of The Social Network—his three best films—but it’s as thematically complex and deviously funny as anything he’s done.
Much more than your average whodunit, Gone Girl is a scathing indictment of the ratings-hungry media and a darkly comic satire on the feeding frenzy that ensues when idiot America buys into the bullshit. Most of all, it’s a damning portrait of marriage and the ugliness that lurks behind that visage of happiness. It’s about how we allow others to see only what we want them to see—from the way we present ourselves to what we share online on social networks.
Expertly adapted for the big screen by Gillian Flynn from her own mega-selling novel, Gone Girl tells the story of Nick and Amy Dunne (Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike), a couple whose blissful, picture-perfect marriage comes undone after they lose their New York City jobs in the wake of the economic recession. Deciding to start over, they move to his hometown in Missouri where Nick opens a bar with his twin sister Margo (a terrific Carrie Coon). But the bar isn’t an immediate success either, and soon, they’re at each other’s throats—both figuratively and literally.
On the morning of their fifth anniversary, Nick returns from a quick visit to the bar to find the front door of his home open. Inside, a table in the living room has been upturned; its glass top shattered, blood stains line the kitchen walls, and worst of all, his wife is missing. He calls the cops (Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit) and explains the situation. They review the crime scene, begin a search and end up with evidence that incriminates him. But with no body to be found, no charges can be filed.
Nick doesn’t help his case. He acts aloof when interrogated and grins like an idiot during a televised press conference. With the case becoming a media sensation, his every move comes under scrutiny. The tabloids call for the death sentence while the public dubs him the next Scott Peterson. As the spotlights grow harsher, and Nick feels the noose getting tighter, he resorts to hiring the slickest lawyer in the country (a funny Tyler Perry) to represent him. But one question looms large over the entire circus, and by extension, the movie: what in the world happened to “Amazing” Amy?
This is Fincher’s second straight adaptation of a best-selling literary phenomenon after the deeply flawed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Unlike that exercise in style—where Fincher’s rudimentary interest in the mystery at the story’s crux stifled the impact of its memorable characters—the marriage between character and narrative in Gone Girl is a mutually beneficial one. This is a nastier, slicker piece of work whose red herrings and fascinating characters enrich the journey. Affleck, who has never been better than he is here, is perfectly cast as the jock whose best days are long behind him. The actor uses his real-life experience with the voracious tabloid media during the Bennifer era to inform Nick’s bemusement and subsequent horror at the constantly evolving madhouse outside his front lawn. Pike, who has mostly played supporting roles in small and medium-budget pictures, is even more impressive in a very difficult, multifaceted role. She’s the film’s true breakout star.
Gone Girl clocks in at little under 2.5 hours but it breezes through its running time—from its unsettling opening shot to its eerily identical final shot—constantly shocking and surprising you with newly earthed discoveries and twists. A lot of that is due to Fincher and Flynn’s deft handling of the tricky material. Much had been made about whether the twisty, flashback-heavy, “he said-she said” narrative of the novel could be successfully translated into a cohesive screenplay. Although I’m one of the few who hasn’t read the novel (a conscious decision), friends who have read it swear by its faithfulness. Whether or not the film is faithful is irrelevant because it works independently. This is a rare big budget studio thriller crafted by and made for adults that doesn’t dumb down or condescend to its audience. If you subscribe to the philosophy that the tale is in the telling, then Gone Girl is the epitome of how to tell it right.
Director: David Fincher
Screenwriter: Gillian Flynn
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon, Tyler Perry, Kim Dickens
Producer: Ceán Chaffin, Joshua Donen, Arnon Milchan, Reese Witherspoon
Editor: Kirk Baxter
Cinematographer: Jeff Cronenweth
Music: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
Running time: 149 minutes
Companies: 20th Century Fox
Rating: R for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language