2014 - 149 minutes
Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: Gillian Flynn
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Kim Dickens, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Patrick Fugit
David Fincher is a rare contemporary cinematic visionary. In an era of retreads, reboots, and endless YA and comic book adaptations, the director clearly communicates his distinctive voice even when adapting existing material. Fight Club, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and The Social Network all capture the spirit of their source while also being undeniably Fincher with his procedural approach to conveying human nature. Gone Girl – based on the best seller by author Gillian Flynn, who also pens the screenplay – is no different. The lurid dime novel platitudes that are the hook of the story offer a saucy entry point, but they also dovetail seamlessly with acerbic commentary on modern marriage, relationships, and our outsider perception of same. It’s a piece of glorious trash that would make Hitchcock proud.
Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) are sputtering through their marriage five years on. Their once promising union began as upwardly mobile bohemian writers in New York City, but they’ve relocated to a rented McMansion in Nick’s suburban Missouri hometown after his mother fell ill. He spends much of his time at the bar he runs with twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon), while Amy struggles to find inspiration for her writings – save the increasingly desperate entries in her diary. The chasm in their relationship is cold and wide, much like their very large home shared by just the two of them and no children – another bone of contention.
On their anniversary, Nick arrives home to find a glass coffee table flipped and shattered, the iron left on, and Amy missing. An investigation is led by Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) - the most capable, folksiest female cop since Marge Gunderson - as Nick is thrown into a relentless media meat grinder he’s woefully ill-prepared for. With the public becoming more convinced of his guilt, Nick hires slick attorney Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) to guide him through the minefield.
The setup sounds like a disposable whodunit that’s just going to string us along until a big reveal involving Nick’s guilt or innocence. The great thing about Gone Girl is that it’s exactly that, but so much more. Flynn’s script comes complete with hackneyed dialogue and staged meet-cutes that are purposely manipulative in early scenes – not to bluntly attempt to add emotional punch to Amy’s disappearance, but to shatter our perceptions of the sort of web that’s being woven. Perception and context are constantly being teased and toyed with. We get information from Amy’s diary-reading voiceover and Nick’s dealings with authorities and townsfolk, but who’s a reliable narrator? Are either of them?
Nick and Amy are each deeply flawed, with flashes of despicableness, and Affleck and Pike do a remarkable job of humanizing their faults and allowing us to empathize. Nick could just be simpleton or he could be a calculating brute; Amy could be the put-upon victim or the entitled, controlling trust fund kid. They’re probably some of each. Pike is absolutely amazing in a tricky role. Their portrayal in the media within the film’s world may be a little too easy a satirical target, with Missi Pyle’s inciting Nancy Grace clone a dull comment on sensationalism, but thankfully the sideshow is left to the edges of the story as we’re tossed deeper into the shifting psyches of a married couple in extreme disarray.
Fincher has way more than he needs to craft a tale of deception that’s just as much about upending our expectations as a viewer as it is answering the mystery’s central questions. Comparable to the way Nick and Amy spin their yarns, Fincher and Flynn play us like a piano, fleetly moving through a complicated narrative with ease, all the while disgusting us with some of the behavior on display and finding a proper wit in the salaciousness. Even inert sounds of the suburbs like chirping cicadas and whirring sprinklers add to the sense of hyper-awareness on display and suggest a duality that is at times soothing and others maddening.
Dense and observant, Gone Girl pulls no punches in its exploration of a marriage in turmoil. When reveals are made and various psychoses come home to roost certain motivations aren’t always clear, but when viewing a doomed couple through this prism the how is much more important than the how come. It’s a much more lasting vision that forces you to examine character rather than the foibles of a potboiler plot.