I sat, jaw agape, at the end of Gone Girl and could not help but wonder what it was that I had just witnessed. Was it David Fincher plying his craft so well that it is nothing short of a masterpiece? Yup. A topsy-turvy and, frankly, gnarled thriller that surprised me time and time again? That too. I found myself grinning with delight soon after as the various plot points were rehashed in my head. And while not all of them were the most plausible, it didn't really matter. Fincher did something that only he and few others in Hollywood can do. He can reach forth and squeeze his fingers around the beating heart of the source material (Gillian Flynn's 2012 best-seller Gone Girl) and wring all the bile and essence he can from it. The distillation of that has splattered onto the screen in what is not only one of the most gorgeous films I've seen this year but one of its very best.
The film opens with a hand stroking the flaxen locks of a woman's head. "The primal questions of any marriage: What are you thinking? What are you feeling? What have we done to each other?" is asked in voice-over by Nick (Ben Affleck). His wife turns to look across his chest, smiling with adoration. He continues, "I imagine cracking open her skull, unspooling her brain and trying to find the answers." A definite tone is struck within the first ten seconds and, from there, we begin a journey that doesn't only question whether Nick Dunne, in fact, murdered his wife but what their marriage was and what it could be.
Nick goes about his day as he would any other, though this one is different. Five years with Amy (Rosamund Pike) has left him bitter, seemingly inept and perhaps looking for a way out. He heads into town from the suburbs of a sleepy Midwestern flyover known as North Carthage and strolls into a local tavern. He asks for a bourbon a bit early and the bartender pours herself one. The bar is one he owns with his sister Go (short for Margo and played expertly by Carrie Coon) and he whinges on about how the yearly tradition of anniversary scavenger hunts is exhausting.
The perspective immediately shifts to Amy recanting the tale of how her and her husband first met. It is a scene that has dialogue that feels lifted directly from a Diablo Cody script and is improbably romantic. She remarks on how he has a villainous chin and he attempts to make up for it by covering it with his fingers. They walk, hand in hand, into an alleyway where a sugar delivery to a bakery is happening. There is a flurry of sugar in the air and they embrace in a moment that is so very tender and intimate it feels out of place. It is, all at once, warm and inviting yet so very idyllic and artificial too. Or so it feels anyway.
Nick returns home to find the living room in disarray. A glass table has been turned over and shattered, small splatters of blood upon the kitchen moulding and his wife missing. The specter of kidnapping and possible murder is now over the Heartland and, like all great Nancy Grace wet dreams, it starts in a place like Missouri. This where a crucial aspect of the film comes into play. The investigation into Amy's disappearance begins and it quickly becomes a national spectacle. Nick is soon the most hated man in America and poor Amy Dunne is yet another gorgeous white woman who was probably murdered by her dumb yet devilish husband.
This movie could have easily careened into Wal-Mart chintzy thriller meets Lifetime movie territory in a second but thankfully the expert hands of Fincher (and a screenplay written by the author, Gillian Flynn) keep things flowing at a brisk pace. There is a dark humor to all of this that only ratchets up as the insanity unfurls. The audience I was with laughed tentatively at things in the first act and, by the end, were howling at things that rightly shouldn't be laughed at within any other sort of circumstance. The comedy inherent within the core of the movie tempers the downright preposterous beats of the plot.
It is also anchored by performances that are simply outstanding. Affleck as the near sitcom-level dopey husband channels his most reticent performance to date. He and his villainous chin are just so damn guilty and you feel it in your bones. Affleck continues to prove to me that he is going through a bit of a renaissance himself. This made me more excited for his turn in the upcoming DC films he's attached to. His darling wife, Amy, is a lot of things. She is Harvard educated, a trust-fund beauty and a woman clearly leagues above Nick. Her parents made their fortune on writing about a fictional version of her, "Amazing Amy" and she's a bit of a minor celebrity for it. Rosamund Pike has fully arrived at this point. This is, no doubt, the start of what could be a stellar trajectory for her. She is charming, sexy and such a presence on screen though we mostly see her in flashback with voice-over for a good portion of the film. She managed to steal every single second she was in frame and this is in a movie crammed full of terrific performances. There is, however, something behind the well-to-do smile and the "I don't want to be that wife that nags you" attitude. She isn't just a rich girl, but also a cool girl that somehow Nick managed to land, with far more lurking under the surface. Pike was a true blue revelation in this film.
The rest of the cast is filled out so well and with some choices out of which I would have never expected to glean such winning work. Tyler Perry as defense attorney to upper middle class wife murderers everywhere, Tanner Bolt, was fantastic. Those pearly whites seemed to be more predatory than anything. We see that Bolt clearly knows what he's doing, but he's never tackled a case like this one before. Neil Patrick Harris as the former boyfriend still obsessed with Amazing Amy twenty years on had a bit too much Broadway in his gait but still played the part extremely well. Kim Dickens as the lead detective on the case, Rhonda Boney, would have honestly stolen the show entirely if not for Rosamund Pike. Truly astute and playing her cards close to her vest Dickens approached it all with a bit of a sardonic grin and a wit that made her far more than just a plot device to move things along. Missi Pyle as the not very subtle at all Nancy Grace stand-in shines as well, as the rallying mouthpiece of a shocked nation.
The true star of the show, aside from Pike's missing wife portrayal, is Fincher and his partner-in-crime, Jeff Cronenworth (long-time Director of Photography). Every shot is meticulously crafted with such attention to fine detail yet it never calls attention to itself. It is cool, detached and as picture-perfect a presentation as one could imagine. Everything is accounted for and catalogued like a crime scene yet the tone continually shifts from the yuppy narcissism of the 'burbs to the absurdity of the late 80's/90's erotic crime/thrillers that verge on exploitation. Mix in a score from Trent Reznor/Atticus Finch that delivers every note to perfection and you've got a calculated, if careening, film that never drags despite it's 149 minute run-time.
FINAL WORD: Gone Girl is a faithful adaptation of its source material, and in true Fincher fashion, it's a damn entertaining one. These characters are mean to each other, honestly, and from such unlikable messes springs forth genuinely compelling portrayals of husbands, wives and their family caught in the midst of a spectacle so sweeping it is downright ridiculous. Fincher is in top form here and this could be his very best film if you don't count Zodiac. Affleck is tremendous while Rosamund Pike is a revelation. The rest of cast rounding out the bill is strong with great performances all around. The soundtrack is haunting and infectious with melodies that will stick in your head for days. (Thanks Reznor you jerk). This is a damn good flick and signals the arrival of Rosamund Pike as a potential mega star. Fincher delivers yet again.
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