The first rule about Gone Girl, especially if you haven’t read the book, is don’t talk about Gone Girl—or at least try not to spill all of its secrets at once. It’s true, trying to talk about Gone Girl without giving too much away is a difficult task—especially for a reviewer like me who doesn’t want to spoil all the fun—considering the way it expertly uses its central mystery and its fascinatingly devastating aftermath to draw you in and subvert your every expectation. This is a David Fincher movie after all, so to expect any less would be foolish, and yet this latest mesmerizing adaptation of a bestselling mystery potboiler, following his underappreciated 2011 film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, has many precise twists and turns (and even some laughs), all adding up to one of the best psychological thrillers since, well, that last Fincher movie.
Anchored by the two phenomenal core performances of Ben Affleck and the revelatory Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl is not so much a straightforward whodinut chronicling the disappearance of a housewife in small-town Missouri as it is a chrystalline dissection of the grand performative aspects of modern American marriage with deliciously pulpy bits peppered throughout.
On her fifth wedding anniversary, Amy Dunne (Pike) goes missing, and the case against her suspiciously aloof husband Nick (Affleck) begins to mount against him with a clue here, an affair there, some stereotypical red herrings, and the growing media firestorm whose tawdry TV personalities pilfer his personal tragedy for its own sensationalist agenda. What’s brilliant about Gone Girl (which was skillfully adapted by writer Gillian Flynn from her own book) is that the movie manages to keep its secrets from the audience just as much as it keeps them from the characters themselves. Unreliable narrators, the holding back of dramatic irony, and a surprisingly swift pace despite its 149-minute runtime should keep even the most ardent armchair gumshoe guessing until the movie punches you in the face with a few major narrative turns that Hitchcock would have loved. Pike, it should be noted, is a blonde.
Hitch-favorites like Vertigo and Rebecca are obvious influences, as are other thriller classics (Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique primarily springs to mind, and maybe even Jonathan Demme’s Richard Harris adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs), but Fincher—ever the auteur—makes the potentially trashy Gone Girl his very own. Detractors—if there are any—will call this middle-of-the-road territory for Fincher, yet in the hands of a lesser director the material would have almost undoubtedly been mishandled with a schlocky sense of melodrama. Instead, Fincher allows the perversities and dark themes within the narrative bubble to the surface while playing up the superficially lurid details.
Without giving too much away, one can say that Amy Dunne can thus be added to the, ahem, murderer’s row of previous vampiric Fincher protagonists liked Mark Zuckerberg or Lisbeth Salander, characters who deny any sympathy from the audience yet still remain undeniably the most interesting aspects of the respective worlds they inhabit. Pike, with her initially breathy and overtly detailed voice over and performance, plays a delicate balance and then pulls the rug right out from under you. To say any more would risk lessening one of the best performances I’ve seen this year. As for Affleck, his casting as a smarmy deadbeat husband for the audience to graft their own predetermined sense of love or hate on top of the character himself is a genius move. Once suspicions rise or fall, Affleck takes hold of his own empathetic reins and lets the audience decide what they want to think until they’re forced to confront them about halfway through the movie. The supporting roles, including the potentially suspect casting of actors like Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris, also expertly play with audience expectation even further. If there is such a thing as a perfect cast with outward appearances indicating otherwise, Gone Girl definitely has it. It is but another example of the movie’s amazing use of bait-and-switch.
Fincher’s latest film is quite a love story. It is one that takes a microscope to public and private personas within relationships with an acerbic wit, and questions the narratives we allege ourselves to made of. All is spectacle. Trust, deceit, manipulation, and understanding—according to Gone Girl these become threads used to weave your own tragedy even with the one you love till death do you part. There are no heroes or villains here, rather just those who tell themselves they are one or the other. It’s up to you to decide.