In the beginning, the marriage seems idyllic. An attractive young magazine journalist teams up with a gorgeous woman who earns her living writing quizzes for magazines. They live in New York City, and appear to be clued to a power-couple track.
Then comes the derailment.
R for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language
For 27 years, Robert Denerstein was the film critic at The Rocky Mountain News. Read more of Robert's reviews at Denerstein Unleashed.
He loses his job; she doesn’t have a whole lot happening in her life. They decide to abandon New York City and head for his hometown in Missouri. There, he’ll run a neighborhood bar, and she’ll have entirely too much time to wonder what happened to her life.
So goes the setup for director David Fincher’s eagerly awaited adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s 2012 best-seller, Gone Girl, which stars Ben Affleck as the husband and Rosamund Pike as his wife.
Gone Girl is the kind of movie about which much can’t be said. To discuss the plot in any detail puts one knee deep into spoiler territory.
For those who haven’t read Flynn’s book, all that really needs to be known is that Affleck’s Nick Dunne arrives home from work on the day of his fifth anniversary to discover that his wife is missing. Signs of violence suggest that he should call the cops.
The rest of the movie concerns the search for Pike’s Amy as Fincher provides us with various views of the marriage at the film’s tricky heart.
After a slow and somewhat awkward start, Fincher eventually gets down to business, playing with our sympathies as Nick comes under suspicion in his wife’s disappearance. One minute, we feel Nick may be getting a raw deal. The next minute, we’re leaning toward Amy’s version of things and wondering whether Nick isn’t a monster who killed his wife. Each character gets a turn at narrating the story. We hear Nick in voice-over fragments: Amy’s view is presented in the form of excerpts from her diary (read by Pike).
Affleck’s performance isn’t showy, but it’s effective. He’s playing a guy whose life is spinning out of control. Affleck’s Nick does his best to cope and to combat what seems to be a long-standing depression.
Pike confronts a different problem: Amy tends to be more of a sketch than a fully drawn character — albeit the sketch gets more interesting as the movie progresses.
The supporting cast is first rate. Kim Dickens, familiar from HBO’s Treme, does nice work as a detective in the Francis McDormand-Fargo mode, and Patrick Fugit (who starred in Almost Famous as a kid) plays her skeptical sidekick, Officer James Gilpin.
Tyler Perry nails his role as an attorney whose confidence stems from his unquestionable slickness. He specializes in defending accused husbands. Neil Patrick Harris portrays one of Amy’s former boyfriends, a preppie type who never gave up his crush on her.
Carrie Coon deserves special mention: She plays Nick’s twin sister, a woman who’s entirely devoted to him, but who also knows his weak spots.
Fincher (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network, Zodiac and Se7en) is not a breezy director: He moves deliberately, and he may be guilty of letting an hour and half’s worth of movie stretch into two hours and 25 minutes. But in the end, Gone Girl’s many twists and turns — Flynn wrote the screenplay — carry the day, turning the movie into fun with a trashy tilt.
Beyond that, Fincher lands some nice — if obvious — satirical blows to the media solar plexus: In the 24-hour news cycle, commentators often treat crime stories as morality plays that demand constant blameworthy targets.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure that Fincher didn’t take the material more seriously than is warranted: In some ways, Gone Girl struck me as glorified and bloodier version of some episodic TV shows, and it’s probably unwise to generalize about the state of marriage from what see of Nick and Amy.
Still, Gone Girl provides enough mordant humor and intrigue to keep us engaged right up until the movie’s provocative and, I suppose, cynical finale. It’s a movie for anyone who’s ever said the words “I love you” through clenched teeth.