The latest David Fincher film to be based on a popular book club selection, Gone Girl arrives with the bombast of a prestige picture, but retains its mix of psychological intrigue and rumination on sex and power. Of course, that same recipe could equally be used to describe Fincher’s previous effort, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Those similarities are largely superficial, except to say that those themes seem to resonate with the filmmaker, and can be traced across his entire oeuvre.
Gone Girl is the story of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), who discovers his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike) has disappeared on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary. He becomes the central suspect in the investigation led by Detective Boney (Kim Dickens), and the case becomes a media circus that expands to include Amy’s ex Desi (Neil Patrick Harris), flashy attorney Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), and Nick’s twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon).
The film is technically brilliant, and while Fincher’s use of interesting camera moves continues, what makes the look of the film is the way the setting is showcased. Most of the film takes place in Nick’s birthplace of North Carthage, Missouri. A small town going through tough economic times, North Carthage is ripe for showcasing the collatoral damage of the recession, from empty McMansions to deserted shopping malls. Finances are a notorious obstacle for married couples, but, Missouri itself is a source of resentment for the lifelong New Yorker. Here the recession truly represents the loss of aspiration, the crushing of dreams, and nothing exemplifies that more than Nick and Amy’s almost empty cookie-cutter home. Fincher never allows the house to be warm or comforting, always cold, empty, and even sterile. Few things adorn the wall, and it looks more like a model home than a lived in one.
The house is, of course, an easy metaphor for a marriage, but rather than being in disrepair, Nick and Amy’s home sits gleaming on a hill for the neighborhood to see, perfect lawn hiding the fact that it is a facade. And that’s what makes Gone Girl so scary. The story is an examination of human relationships. Dating is a dance of presenting our false selves, the “best” version of us, and over the course of marriage, those fronts are stripped away by time and an intertwined destiny. Nick and Amy, portrayed as smart “with it” New Yorkers, are smugly self-aware, and understand each other better than most couples. Or at least they think they do.
Given the closeness to the source material, I can’t conceive of better choices for Nick and Amy than Affleck and Pike. Nick is described in Flynn’s book as smug and wanting to be liked by everyone, a description perfectly embodied by Affleck’s affable charm and boyish looks. Rosamund Pike, who was the best part of both Die Another Day (yes, the last Brosnan Bond movie) and last year’s The World’s End, finally steps into the limelight as the titular character. It’s a bit of a metatextual performance, as Amy sees herself akin to an actress playing a role. Pike deftly crafts distinct personalities for Amy, donning and shedding them at will, sometimes multiple times within the same scene. Easily one of my favorite performances of the year so far.
The other side of the film involves the media and cultural reaction to Amy’s disappearance. While mostly background material in the novel, Flynn, adapting her own work for the film, wisely pulls it to the foreground, tightening the focus around Nick and cutting out some of the extraneous red herrings in the novel. Like so many high-profile cases in the current media climate, Nick is tried, convicted, and sentenced in the public before the police have reason to even arrest him. While it adds a layer of intrigue, the film really brings forward the impact of the media (society) in shaping how we perceive ourselves and even our closest loved ones.
Gone Girl is the best kind of genre film, engaging on multiple levels. It works well as a psychological thriller, but the extra layers of societal commentary woven throughout the film make it more rewarding as complexity is added to it.
One final note: I am baffled by people who don’t like the ending.
Gone Girl opens in Philly area theaters today.