Mystifying, well-planned, precisely curdled, and tantalizingly mercurial, Gone Girl is a stealthy comedy and an absorbing melodrama; a break-all-the-windows plot-twister that retains every jolt from Gillian Flynn’s blockbuster novel; and a work of chilly wit and bleak metaphor that toys with the viewer like a femme fatale with her prey. It’s the perfect date-night movie for couples who dream of destroying one another.
On the day of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne returns home to find that his wife, Amy, is missing. Her disappearance creates a media frenzy, and his awkward behaviour and lies surrounding the marriage implicate him for her apparent murder. As evidence mounts against him, Nick becomes the prime suspect, and Amy’s diary entries reveal the disintegration of a once-happy relationship.
The performances are bracingly specific, led by Ben Affleck (Gone Baby Gone, The Town), whose task is complex and achievement commendable. Neil Patrick Harris is a weak link in what is a blissfully small role. Acting-wise, this is a ladies’ night out. Carrie Coon finds an appealing naturalism as Nick’s twin sister and the grounded voice of reason, and Kim Dickens is a scene-stealer as the straight-shooting lead detective.
With her serenely cool beauty, Rosamund Pike (Pride and Prejudice) is a revelation, and deserves to graduate to the A-list with her multi-faceted turn as the privileged, manipulative, calculating Amy, a quintessentially icy Hitchcockian blonde who serves as the unattainable centre of a constantly shifting narrative. Under-utilized after years of standout supporting work in films as diverse as An Education and The World’s End, the actress demonstrates versatility with compelling eyes that can instantly switch from innocent to detached. It’s a joy to see her finally seize upon a starring role with total gusto. It’s a Sharon Stone-like breakthrough; Oscar consideration is almost guaranteed.
She may be the face I can’t forget The trace of pleasure or regret Maybe my treasure or the price I have to pay She may be the song that summer sings May be the chill that autumn brings May be a hundred different things within the measure of a day
David Fincher (Zodiac, The Social Network), that dark lord of cinema, opens Gone Girl with a man softly talking about cracking his wife’s skull open and “unspooling” her brains. It wakens an unease that trembles throughout this domestic horror film, and its sinister, brackish atmosphere – dominated by Jeff Cronenweth’s mustard-yellow fluorescent cinematography and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ frigid electronic lilts (like floating on a cotton candy cloud over a shark tank) – is designed to make you squint, recoil, and look closer.
Fincher and Flynn, adapting her own novel, attempt to explore the primal marital questions (“What are you thinking? How are you feeling?”), the way people assume established, familiar archetypes to please, manipulate, and entrap one another, and get out a few glacial, bitter lines (“That’s marriage”). Really, though, Gone Girl is massively entertaining as a stylish, lurid escape to a place you probably would never want to visit in real life.
Gone Girl may get the job done as a dutiful, deliberately-paced procedural, but it never quite makes the splash it could have as a thoroughly bracing plunge. Dread descends like winter shadows, darkening the movie’s tone and visuals until it’s snuffed out all the light, air, and nuance. One of those filmmakers whose technical prowess can make the mediocrity of his material seem almost irrelevant, Fincher relies almost exclusively on craft – and Gone Girl is extremely well-crafted. Yet his art can overwhelm characters and their stories to the point that they fade away, leaving you with meticulous staging and framing, and edits as sharp as razor blades.
Even after the he-said, she-said curlicues of Scenes from a Marriage, the infidelity of American Beauty, and the grisly blood spraying of Carrie, Gone Girl doesn’t feel as dangerous as it should, humming along like the precision machine it is. Ticking with metronome-like efficiency, it’s more slick than sick, too self-conscious about its depravity to be either truly disturbing or disturbingly funny. At the end of the perfect murder – regardless of its share of vicious, shivery delights – all you’re left with is a corpse.
Amy’s bad because she’s angry, and that can’t compare to being bad because it feels so damn good. Still, Pike expertly mixes a cocktail of hot and cold blood. She is a kiss-me-deadly kind of girl, a poison apple in satin lingerie, the Amazing Amy you could fall for, till death do you part. She raises Gone Girl from exquisitely-made trash to eminently watchable suburban noir, to be enjoyed in sickness and in health.