Gone Girl opens with protagonist Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) looking at the back of his wife Amy Dunne’s (Rosamund Pike) head, telling the audience that he imagines “cracking her lovely skull, unspooling her brains.” This rather unsettling start immediately sets the tone for the harrowing ride that we are about to embark on. When it came time to adapt Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel of the same name, there was only one man for the job: David Fincher. No one else taps into the dark unsettling nature of humanity quite like Fincher does. With Flynn also writing the screenplay, it’s a rare case of a novel’s author adapting a film to the screen the way that they really want.
Things get tricky for Nick Dunne after he returns home one day and finds his house in shambles, and his wife missing. Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and Officer Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit, all grown up from Almost Famous) arrive to the scene of the crime, and instantly sense that something isn’t right. Gilpin’s suspicions immediately point to Dunne, while the crafty Boney senses that something deeper is at work. Nick turns to his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon – on a hot streak from The Leftovers) who is there for him, but even she is somewhat hesitant to rule out that Nick had nothing to do with the sudden vanishing of his wife.
Although I didn’t read the novel, I’m aware that Flynn kept the same style of storytelling in her screenplay. The present is told through Nick, and the past is shown via flashbacks narrated in journal entry style format from Amy. Amy provides us with the highs of their first meet and honeymoon years, when they were both New York writers, in love and full of life. But after barely surviving the recession, Nick moves the couple back to his hometown of North Carthage, Missouri, in order take care of his mother, who is dying from stage 4 breast cancer. This is where their relationship begins a rocky descent that ties into the mysterious present.
It’s a movie that is hard to review, as you have to be careful in what you say without spoiling anything. Fincher provides no clear cut answer as to what is really going on, keeping you on your toes until the very end of its 150 minute runtime. You have to decide for yourself whether to believe Nick, who doesn’t make things easy for himself, behaving oddly throughout press conferences, displaying an awkward smile for a photo when he should be weeping (Affleck nails that pivotal scene).
It’s a cold nasty film, presented in a very Fincher manner. This is largely accredited to Jeff Cronenweth, Fincher’s longtime director of photography, who shoots the picture in the murky mysterious style that it deserves. Then there’s the unsurprisingly great (and fitting) score provided by the unstoppable team that is Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. They capture the mood and atmosphere of the film and then some, creating the pulse of the film that it would be lost without.
This is surely one of the best performances of Affleck’s career, surely as of late. He’s perfect in the role, capturing all of the subtleties that are required of Nick. He’s likable, but also somewhat slimy enough where his face isn’t enough to put any doubts of “did he do it” down completely. He’s great, but it’s the performance of Rosamund Pike that left me stunned. She’s haunting in her role, nailing every scene with a devastating presence that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Everyone is expertly cast in the roles, from Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s old flame Desi Collings, to the previously mentioned Coon, Dickens, and Fugit. But it’s the straight performance from Tyler Perry, who is surprisingly good as the confident hotshot defense attorney Tanner Bolt. You have to see it to believe it, but Perry proved that he has some actual acting chops when he’s actually given something of quality to perform with.
Sitting in the dark as the credits rolled, I thought the film was good, but initially wasn’t totally blown away. I thought there were some elements that were a bit too ridiculous for my liking (a climatic scene of brutal violence left me straight up shocked – something that rarely happens). But as I sat on it last night, and earlier today, I realized that they were all crucial elements at play in the messed up world that is portrayed by Flynn and Fincher. It’s unsettling and batshit crazy in all the right ways. It taps into commentary on many very relevant items, such as social media, the influence of the media, as well as the perils of marriage, and the lengths that two former lovers will go to save a marriage, as well as tear it to shreds.
Gone Girl is the sort of film that will stick with you long after you leave the theater, never quite releasing you from its slimy grip. David Fincher, you’ve done it again.