By Nick Anstett
Elm Staff Writer
It’s hard to think of a more voraciously read novel over the past two years than Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl.” Flynn’s story of a corrupted modern marriage and the twisting mystery that evolves out of it was a pop cultural phenomenon when it was first published in 2012 and is still hotly discussed now two years later. With a film adaptation helmed by arguably the best contemporary thriller director, David Fincher (“The Social Network,” “Se7en,” “Zodiac”), “Gone Girl” seemed poised to once again captivate Americans over. It does. Fincher and Flynn, who returns to pen the film’s screenplay, create a brilliantly crafted, haunting, and satirical comically dark thriller that ranks among the year’s best.
Despite their seemingly blissful early romance, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and his wife Amy Elliot Dunne (Rosamund Pike) have fallen on hard times. Rocked by the recent recession and dogged with marital issues and emotional stress, their once strung, even storybook love affair has begun to crumble. All of this comes to a head when Nick returns home from work one day to find that his wife has gone missing after an apparent struggle. Due to Amy’s status as the basis for a popular series of children’s books, it’s not long before Amy’s disappearance becomes the attention of a media circus. However, as the evidence mounts it becomes clear that Nick may in fact be implicated in the disappearance and possible death of his wife.
To discuss the plot of “Gone Girl” is akin to navigating a mind field. In both film and novel, Flynn has crafted an intriguing, haunting, and complex narrative that continually undercuts itself and surprises. Flynn crafts a cynical satire of both modern media’s handling obsessive and ill-informed handling of real life violent crime as well as the dangerous things that men and women can do to one another. It’s a corruption of intimacy and love that in a way creates a perfect “anti-date” movie. Flynn’s narrative cuts right into the heart of the ugly hate that springs out of love and turns it into something that is both frightening and darkly comedic. Fans of the novel will be pleased with the level of detail and deftness of the execution that Flynn has brought about in the transition of her own work. That being said, the complicated subject matter and logical leaps that plagued the novel are still here as well. At the very least, “Gone Girl” will intrigue and it will provoke conversation.
Fincher has become a master at creating contemporary thrillers that bleed with character and tension but are also saturated with atmosphere and style. “Gone Girl” is undeniably a Fincher film evoking all of his last several projects, but forging an identity of its own. Here, “Gone Girl” feels more in line with a rusted and collapsing pulp novel and Fincher twists the knife. The result is fascinating, eerie, uncomfortably funny, and utterly involving. There’s a theatricality to the presentation that breaks through at times but only serves to highlight the narrative itself, which in and of itself stretches reality.
However, what really sells “Gone Girl” are the performances. Affleck’s often criticized smug and awkward demeanor makes him a perfect fit for the scrutinized, flawed, and at times bumbling Nick Dunne. It is certainly one of his better performances of recent years, and easily the best that was not in a work that he directed. The true star, however, is Rosamund Pike as Amy. Pike is riveting. The film opens with her staring straight through the frame of the screen and into the viewers’ eyes. It’s haunting, but beautiful. Again, saying too much about either of their performances would be a disservice to the complex narrative that follows, but both Affleck and Pike handle the revelations and twists in their characters with master class precision.
Other standouts include Carrie Coon as Margo Dunne, Nick’s twin sister, who emerges quickly as one of the most grounded and likable characters in a script filled with depravity. Neil Patrick Harris also takes an unnerving turn as one of Amy’s former suitors.
“Gone Girl” is a complex and uncomfortable film made all the more engaging through Fincher’s direction. It’s as flawed as the novel it draws its inspiration from, but in some ways that’s praise.