How does one even have a go at Gone Girl? Anyone who’s read Gillian Flynn’s wildly popular novel — she penned the script as well — knows there’s some pretty well-laid change-ups within the story line, and we’re not even talking about the plot twist that comes sailing in at the end of the book. No, we’re talking about subtle turns of the screw that change and redirect context and the viewer’s orientation, forging an ephemeral, yet enjoyable immersion into the rapture of intrigue. So, I’ll tread carefully.
As the title implies, a woman goes missing under some curious circumstance and her husband’s innocence or culpability in the matter hangs in the balance. Gone Girl, much like Denis Villeneuve’s dark and foreboding Prisoners (2013), isn’t so much about solving the mystery at the fore, but the potpourri of personalities that drive and shape it. It’s an interesting comparison too, because the bleak rainy sheen that Villeneuve renders in Prisoners conjures up ominous shades of some of David Fincher’s more macabre works, namely Zodiac and Se7en.
Given Fincher’s running success with cinematic adaptations of bestsellers (Fight Club, The Social Network, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) the pairing would seem perfect, but invariably an assembly of ideals doesn’t always guarantee a victory. That’s not to say Gone Girl doesn’t work — far from it — but it is somewhat hampered by the continual churn of machinations and the inherent contrivances imbued in Flynn’s yarn. That said, the vestige of under-the-table trickery is aptly scant, and Fincher is far too accomplished a director to stumble into cliche. At his core, he’s a stylist who’s mellowed over the years. The frenetic flash cutting that generated smash-mouth kinetics in Fight Club and Se7en have been supplanted by the haunting aural moodiness composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who won an Academy Award for their collaboration with Fincher on The Social Network.
The overall casting of Gone Girl is a curious thing, and in a way, a minor act of ingenuity. At the center you have the wooden Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, the man under police investigation and public scrutiny for the disappearance of his wife. As his betrothed Amy, Rosamund Pike cuts a richer, more complex figure. Initially she’s reserved, demure, and every part the victim-in-waiting, but as the scrutiny of Nick deepens and the film cross-cuts to entries in her diary, we realize she’s something more, something deeper and less appealing. Her past casts insight.
Amy grew up the subject of a wildly popular children’s series that her mother penned, aptly called Amazing Amy, and she went to all the best schools. Then she met Nick. They had it all. They lived in New York, they were writers, they had freedom, and the perfect partner — life was better than good. Then the recession hit, and they lost their jobs, Nick’s mother became stricken with cancer, and so to Missouri they went to take care of the withering mom. Mom passes, Nick buys a bar, and Amy vanishes.
Besides Fincher’s arduous non-linear juggling that keeps the plot points in the air, the smaller players at the seams add the buff and shine. I’m not sure if it’s Tyler Perry as Nick’s silver-tongued attorney or Carrie Coon as Nick’s sassy, foul-mouthed twin sister Margot, who steals more scenes from Affleck. They’re both genuine beings and the only ones who have Nick’s back. As the crime-fighting Greek chorus, Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit bring nuanced complexity as the detectives on the case with one sympathetic to Nick, while the other is convinced he’s guilty from the get-go. And most pivotal in a blip role is Neil Patrick Harris as a well-off yuppie who’s had a thing for Amy since boarding school. His Desi Collings is the story’s wild card, and also its most vacuous vessel too.
The one social commentary that rings through Gone Girl is the eroding tenets of journalism with Nancy Grace-like incarnations shrieking on TVs that loom in the frame of nearly every scene. It’s a brilliantly piquant skewering that almost rises to the campy level of Paul Verhoeven’s sharply sardonic Robocop and an acerbic condemnation of media-frenzy justice.
Gone Girl weighs in at nearly two-and-a-half hours, but it’s a lean long time. With Fincher at the helm, the film sails ahead with seamless grace while Pike carries the heavy load with aplomb, but not without burden. Not all the veers and neck cranking developments payoff, but there is a confluence, mostly in the moody, fractious friction throughout and the enigmatic desolation in the pools of Pike’s limpid blue eyes.