David Fincher’s Gone Girl takes a big beach read about a troubled marriage and turns it into a suspenseful screen indictment of modern times.
It’s a transformation of skill and daring, both on Fincher’s part and that of author/screenwriter Gillian Flynn, who ruthlessly pares her voluminous prose without sacrificing essential plot turns.
And about those turns, let this be said: Fear not the careless clod or online troll who spills so-called plot spoilers. While you don’t want to encourage such creatures, there’s so much more happening in this movie than simple narrative developments.
I’ve seen Gone Girl twice (I also read the book) and I found the second viewing the more satisfying, because I could forget about the “who” and “how” of the unhappy marital saga of Nick and Amy Dunne, and concentrate more closely on the “why.”
And the why of Gone Girl is what makes it both a ripping yarn and a seriously thoughtful film, one that seems likely to court Oscar attention from Best Picture on down.
It’s an excoriating examination of institutions under stress — marriage, the justice system, the economy, the media — viewed with a jaded eye and a ruthless mind. As information is parceled out, chances are you’ll find your assumptions and attitudes shifting, and not just about the lives on screen.
Fincher is great both at elevating potboilers (he also did so with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and finding the deeper message within the social phenomenon (The Social Network, Zodiac, Fight Club).
With Gone Girl, he retains Flynn’s tricky dual-narrator format (which can get tedious) while cutting straight to the central mystery.
On the day of her fifth wedding anniversary, transplanted New York writer Amy (Rosamund Pike) suddenly disappears from the Missouri home she shares with her husband Nick (Ben Affleck), also a writer.
There are signs of a scuffle, but police investigators Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) don’t rush to judgment. A kidnapping (or worse) are possible but perhaps Amy just ran off.
Maybe there was marital tension, or personal depression. Amy and Nick moved to his hometown of North Carthage, Mo., after being laid off from New York magazines, but jobs (and dreams) are even scarcer in the sticks.
The story soon breaks national because Amy is no ordinary missing person. She’s the inspiration for the can-do title heroine of Amazing Amy, the popular series of children’s books penned by her psychologist parents, Marybeth and Rand Elliott (Lisa Banes and David Clennon).
As days pass with no sign of Amy, town gossips and media weasels start observing that humble hubby Nick smiles too much and seems too relaxed for a guy who claims to be under siege.
But as Gone Girl demonstrates so well, who really knows anything about anybody? “I don’t even know if I believe the truth,” a character observes.
Fincher and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth (The Social Network, Fight Club) feed the mystery with lighting and lensing that favour shadows and shallow focus and that demand close attention. Watch how skillfully they put into brief images Amy’s “Cool Girl” speech that runs long in the book.
The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Oscar winners for The Social Network, imparts a constant feeling of dread and distrust, even though it often resembles something you’d hear in a fairy tale — or spa, to use Fincher’s preferred comparison.
Casting is the major revelation. Affleck and Pike may not have been the most likely suspects to play Nick and Amy, but lightning struck twice and not just in the beauty department: his desultory charm works perfectly against her patrician reserve.
The choice of Madea actor/writer/director Tyler Perry to play celebrity defense attorney Tanner Bolt is nothing sort of divine intervention, his easy smile hiding a shark’s teeth. Also good are Neil Patrick Harris and Scoot McNairy as figures from Amy’s past.
But you may remember Gone Girl best for its female roles, of which there are more great ones than in a half dozen other recent movies.
Besides Pike’s enigmatic Amy and Dickens’ understated Det. Boney (she’d be right at home with Fargo’s Marg Gunderson), there are also terrific performances by Carrie Coon as Nick’s stalwart twin sister Margo and Missi Pyle and Sela Ward as scoop-chasing TV harpies.
With all the serious stuff going on in Gone Girl, it seems almost rude to observe that the film also has a lot of dark and devilish humour.
For example, check out the inscription on Margo’s T-shirt, below the image of a squirrel hoarding its stash: “Protect Your Nuts.”
That lowly rodent can’t even guess what’s coming, just like the rest of us.