It’s been a while since a movie based on a best-selling novel that isn’t aimed at young adults caused such a stir. Gone Girl is a rarity: a mainstream, studio-backed feature aimed at grownups that doesn’t dilute its harsh source material in any way. In fact, Gone Girl was adapted by its author, Gillian Flynn, who found a perfect collaborator in director David Fincher and an equally perfect cast to bring it to life onscreen.
Not having read the book, I had no idea of what was coming at any point in this riveting thriller (unlike my wife, who remembered all the story twists but still enjoyed the film). For the sake of others like me, I won’t divulge any spoilers. Suffice it to say that Ben Affleck plays a callow guy named Nick who should be celebrating his fifth wedding anniversary with his beautiful wife Amy (Rosamund Pike), but discovers instead that she has disappeared, under mysterious circumstances. What’s more, all indications point to him as the leading suspect in the case.
As the mystery unfolds, Flynn reveals layers and nuances in the backstory of the seemingly perfect couple. They meet in New York City and wind up in his hometown in Missouri, caring for his dying mother. She’s a fish out of water there, but he takes comfort in the company of his twin sister (Carrie Coon), who operates a local bar.
Fincher and Flynn cast a keen eye on the hypocrisies of modern society: the rush to judgment by tabloid media, the way a community (and even local police) can be manipulated, in a series of falling dominoes that have become all too familiar, and how a man who is far from innocent—yet not guilty of murder or abduction—fights to save his reputation, his sanity, and his freedom.
Fincher has cast his movie with great skill, using little-known actors as well as recognizable faces in supporting roles. Perhaps his greatest coup was choosing Tyler Perry to play a high-profile, take-no-prisoners lawyer who agrees to defend Affleck. It’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job in this juicy role.
That can also be said of the two leads. Affleck is in his element here, playing an “ordinary guy” who gets in over his head. Pike is being celebrated as the year’s major discovery, but she’s been doing fine work in films over the past decade, from Pride and Prejudice to the little-seen Barney’s Version and last month’s Hector and the Search for Happiness. Because of her beauty she’s endured her share of superficial roles, but Gone Girl shows her considerable range.
Gone Girl is an unrelentingly tough movie, from the first moment to the last. The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who did Fincher’s last two films as well) is appropriately dissonant and tremendously effective. This isn’t a fun night at the movies, but it’s superior storytelling from a highly talented filmmaker.