20th Century Fox
Rated R for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language.
Running time: 145 minutes.
Three and a half stars out of four.
There’s a particular kind of narcissism that comes with being an only child. You are the confident center of your own universe. You are beyond independent — you’re protective of your self-sufficiency in a way that’s almost primal. Why shouldn’t you be in control of your surroundings? Why shouldn’t you have whatever you want? It’s your birthright.
I speak from experience as an only child who’s also the daughter of an only child and the mother of an only child. Rosamund Pike’s character in “Gone Girl,” the brilliant and bewitching Amy Dunne, also is an only child, as is Pike herself. It’s the prism through which the actress found this elusive character, this precise and quintessentially icy Hitchcockian blonde who serves as the unattainable center of a constantly shifting narrative.
And indeed, “Gone Girl” is David Fincher’s Alfred Hitchcock film. It’s sleek and sexy, a twisty mystery that’s both dark and darkly funny — surprisingly so, given the subject matter. I found myself laughing way more than I expected — sometimes at a sardonic one-liner or a biting quip, but often as a release during moments that were just unbearably suspenseful or macabre.
Part thriller, part meditation on modern marriage, “Gone Girl” moves so smoothly and seems so effortless, it positively glides. Fincher has always enjoyed exploring the more unsettling elements of human nature, from “Se7en” to “Fight Club” to his remake of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” but this time it feels as if he’s dancing while he’s doing it. Shot beautifully by his usual cinematographer, Jeff Cronenweth, edited fluidly by two-time Oscar winner Kirk Baxter and scored hypnotically by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, this is the most elegant, exquisitely made trash.
You could take it seriously, though. Based on the novel by Gillian Flynn (who also wrote the screenplay), “Gone Girl” is dense thematically, and it certainly offers a lot to chew on: marriage, identity, trust, truth. While it may not be saying anything new about the notion that you never truly can know another person — not even your spouse — it does so cleverly and with great wit and verve. But “Gone Girl” is also just massively entertaining as a stylish, lurid escape to a place you probably would never want to go yourself in real life.
Everything looks lovely on the surface, though — at first. “Gone Girl” opens in a wealthy suburban enclave on the morning of a gorgeous couple’s fifth wedding anniversary. But the husband, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), has discovered that his wife, Amy (Pike), is missing. As the investigation gets underway as to Amy’s whereabouts, Flynn’s scripts bounces back and forth in time and perspective to bring us up to speed.
It returns to the night Nick and Amy met cute and bantered beautifully at a hip Manhattan party; both writers, they’re naturally quick and hyper-verbal. It follows their flirty, frisky courtship. It revisits the very public way Nick asked Amy to marry him. And, eventually, it captures some of the down moments in their relationship: the complacency Nick felt once he lost his job, and her disappointment in him in response. Once Nick’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, prompting the couple to move back to his hometown in Missouri, it seemed their fate was sealed.
Back in the present, the days pass without a trace of Amy. But the usual hysterical machinery that builds during the disappearance of a beautiful blonde woman gathers steam: volunteer searchers, a hotline and a website, old friends, judgy parents, freaky hangers-on and non-stop media scrutiny. (Missi Pyle is dead-on as the strident and shrieky Nancy Grace figure.) “Gone Girl” really nails the almost predatory way in which television news pounces on this kind of story, as well as the relative ease with which the media can be manipulated; between this and the upcoming “Nightcrawler,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a skeevy freelance cameraman prowling the streets of Los Angeles, it’s a reminder of how eerily prescient “Ace in the Hole” was more than 60 years ago, and how relevant it remains today.
There isn’t much more I can say without giving away spoilers, which I wouldn’t dream of doing. You really should go into “Gone Girl” knowing as little as possible, and I actually hope you’re reading this after you’ve seen the film. But I do need to rave a bit about the inspired casting. Affleck is always underestimated as an actor — even in his Oscar-winning “Argo” — but he and the extraordinary Pike both rise to the challenge of playing characters who are constantly evolving in our eyes as we learn more details about them, and about their supposedly idyllic marriage. We, in turn, are in the deliciously uncomfortable position of having to reassess constantly how we feel about these people: whom we believe, side with and even like.
Affleck also gets to have a little fun toying with his off-screen persona, and the perception that he’s smug or shallow. Pike, meanwhile, finds a way to be both beguiling and chilling, and after years of standout supporting work in films as diverse as “An Education,” “Made in Dagenham,” “Jack Reacher” and “The World’s End,” it’s a joy to see her finally seize upon such a meaty starring role with total gusto.
Also defying expectations: Tyler Perry as the high-powered attorney Nick hires as he goes from pitied victim to potential suspect. Perry is shockingly good in this, and he should make other people’s movies more often. Carrie Coon finds an appealing naturalism as Nick’s twin sister and the grounded voice of reason, and Kim Dickens is a consistent scene-stealer as the straight-shooting detective in charge of the case. If there is even a vaguely weak link, it’s Neil Patrick Harris’ character, a hilariously arrogant former boyfriend of Amy’s who comes back into the picture years later.
Then again, who he is isn’t as important as what he represents. It’s Amy’s world, and we’re all just living in it.