One of the highest compliments I can pay David Fincher’s Gone Girl is that I could have watched it for at least another hour. It’s a fast-paced nail biter, full of outstanding performances and shocking twists. Not only that, it’s a thought-provoking film with a bit of a sleazy streak that’s obviously made for adults, something that may as well be a unicorn in the current film landscape. The film, based on Gillian Flynn’s popular novel, was actually written by Flynn herself, and Fincher’s realization of her script results in a surprising, chilling, captivating, dark, and occasionally humorous take on marriage, betrayal, and manipulation. Gone Girl is one of the most entertaining movies of the year.
Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a failed writer who teaches community college in Missouri and owns a bar with his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon). Nick’s wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is a born-and-bred New Yorker, a standoffish woman who has a reason for being a little off: her rich parents used her as a loose inspiration for “Amazing Amy,” the lead character in a popular children’s book series they wrote which improved on everything the real Amy ever did as a kid, leaving her in a weird quasi-celebrity state she can’t ever hope to reconcile. Amy narrates diary entries that detail the romantic early days between her and Nick, but through flashbacks we see that things didn’t stay great for long. They both lost their jobs during the recession, she resents him for moving them back to his hometown to take care of his ailing parents, and their marriage is quickly unraveling.
On his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick discovers that Amy is missing. A police investigation ensues, and as the cable news cycle begins to rabidly consume this story and dissect every move he makes, a pair of detectives (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) start to wonder if this man is responsible for his wife’s death.
To reveal what happens next is a massive spoiler, but I’m going to do it because the full plot is so much more interesting than just a standard murder mystery.
For the first third of the film, Nick slyly checks a burner phone in his pocket, but we aren’t clued in to who he’s talking to or what they’re talking about. Finally, one night while Nick is staying at his sister’s place, we find out: he’s been cheating on Amy with a former student (Emily Ratajkowski). What a slimeball, right? But that’s far from the most gasp-inducing reveal: the big one comes just a few minutes later, when we find out – seriously, major spoiler ahead – Amy’s still alive, and she framed Nick for her murder.
It’s the first time we get to see the real Amy, and Pike brings a ferocious, ruthless quality to this character who until this point we’ve assumed was little more than an unhappy housewife. She explains her Ocean’s 11-level plan to frame Nick in a spectacular voiceover sequence, flashing back to show how she knew about his cheating and hated the person she became when she tried to please him. Still floored by the fact that she’s alive, we see step by step how she planned the whole thing out: weaving lies to a pregnant neighbor, leaving clues for the cops to find, doing anything she can to ensure that Nick gets the death penalty.
The pacing is perfect, doling out small details every few minutes that recontextualize what we know about Nick and Amy so far. It also helps that the cast is stellar throughout: the supporting cast, filled with people like Neil Patrick Harris, Scott McNairy, Casey Wilson, and even a terrific Tyler Perry (!), are all on point in smaller roles. Pike is appropriately chilly as Amy, while Ben Affleck delivers one of the best performances of his career as Nick, mashing together the meta elements of his real celebrity status with those that he gains in the movie. The dialogue is quick but never obnoxious, and though I haven’t read the novel, this screenplay marks Flynn as an exciting new voice in film.
Gone Girl upends the traditional norms of what audiences expect from on-screen relationship abuse; instead of having Amy cower in fear from an aggressive former lover, she slits his throat with a box cutter while he climaxes, covers herself in his blood, and returns home to Nick. It’s one of the film’s most insane sequences, and one of many scenes that forces the audience to question their allegiance. When it’s first revealed that Nick is cheating, he becomes the villain in our minds and we hope Amy’s plan goes off without a hitch; when she murders someone, things become more complicated and it’s revealed that she’s actually a full-on psychopath who excels at manipulation. By the film’s end, it’s Nick who’s the one that’s afraid to live in his own house with this woman, flipping the paradigm of the frightened wife and the abusive husband.
How can you root for either one of these people? It doesn’t matter – the movie knocks you on your ass, and with so many twists and power plays to keep track of, likability is the least of Fincher’s concerns. Gone Girl is a perfect fit for the director, continuing his career-spanning exploration of conspiracies, and to me, it also feels like Fincher is actually having a bit of fun making this movie – an emotion not normally associated with a guy who is as meticulous and calculating in his filmmaking as his female lead is in her revenge plots. There’s a satisfying takedown of cable TV sensationalists like Nancy Grace, who spew nonsense in an effort to fill the 24-hour news cycle, and a sense of humor that permeates this movie that’s unlike anything the director has handled before. Gorgeous, haunting, dark, and supremely twisted, Gone Girl will have people talking long after the final credits roll.
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