“Gone Girl” Movie Review

     It’s no secret I feel David Fincher is one of the Top 5 directors of the past 30 years and is working his way onto the list of the all time greats.  As is the case with the other directors I hold in such high esteem (Cameron, Tarantino, Scott, Spielberg, Nolan), when a new film from one of them is on the horizon, I’m definitely paying attention.  With “Gone Girl”, Fincher’s new film based on Gillian Flynn’s best seller and starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, he doesn’t necessarily break any new ground, but nonetheless has achieved the same level of brilliance we have come to expect from films such as “Seven”, “The Game”, “The Social Network”, and his most recent work, the American version of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”. “Gone Girl” fits directly within the mold of those films, providing a number of fascinating character studies set against Fincher’s usual bleak visual style that seemingly makes him the obvious choice to carry on the kind of filmmaking that made directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Brian DePalma so unique.

     The marketing team behind “Gone Girl” certainly outdid themselves with a campaign that effectively sold the film as merely a story about a husband whose wife has disappeared under suspicious circumstances.  There are hints of a media circus and a high powered defense attorney seen in trailers, but ultimately the selling point was the film’s stars and director, not the story.  While everyone involved is at the top of their game, it is the story which is ultimately the highlight and the likely source of upcoming water cooler talk amongst co-workers.  Fincher has created a complex narrative structure that is more akin to an onion, with each character having their moment to pull back another layer of skin, revealing a new twist or direction for a character you would not have thought would be heading.  This continues during each and every scene for the duration of the film’s 149 running time, creating one hell of a potboiler.  Sure the plot at times may seem preposterous, but ultimately this film is making a valid point with every action the characters take.  How well do you really know the person you are married to?

     As we learn through flashback scenes narrated by the writings of Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) in her diary, Amy and her husband, Nick (Ben Affleck) meet at a party and hit it off from there.  A Harvard educated writer, Amy’s life was reimagined as a child by her parents who penned a series of children’s books that exaggerate her accomplishments.  Her fictional character had become somewhat of a modern folk hero and made her parents rich in the process.  You can tell in the initial scenes of interaction between Nick and Amy that something is slightly off.  She isn’t very personable and seems to have a strange untrusting quality about her.  For his part, Nick simply employs the kind of charm he has likely utilized many times before.  Their relationship sizzles behind closed doors and even in public places as they become the typical couple who takes full advantage of the newness of their relationship and the frequent sex that comes with it.  I often wonder in relationships that are at this point what the true goals of each person really are.  Is Nick’s investment at such a high level only because of the physical nature of their relationship?  Is Amy’s sexual prowess just a necessary step in her mind to achieving the ultimate goal of a long term relationship?  What happens when the physical aspects of their relationship tail off and the realities of life begin to take hold?

     As this is truly a modern examination of the institution know as marriage, the story plants Nick and Amy’s new found romance right in the middle of the Great Recession, providing their relationship’s first true test.  As a married couple, they begin living what appears to be a high end New York City lifestyle with both gainfully employed as writers.  Financial difficulty sets in; however, as Nick loses his job and Amy is forced to bail out her parents troubles by nearly liquidating her $1 million trust fund, a decision she neglects to involve her husband in.  In one defining scene, Amy comes home to find Nick playing video games and discovers he bought a new laptop.  When she questions his unnecessary purchase, he smugly replies he bought it for “lap topping”.  What follows is the kind of reaction likely common on both sides of a marriage in which Amy quips “You are making me become someone I didn’t want to be” as she knows her inquiry is being perceived as nagging.  If only this issue was the most significant they would ultimately deal with.

     The couple moves to Nick’s hometown of Carthage, Missouri to help care for his sick mother, leaving Amy in a position where she knows no one living in new surroundings.  They buy a local bar that Nick and his sister, Margo (Carrie Coon) run together, but life with Nick continues to seem unfulfilling for Amy, especially with her wanting to start a family and his unwillingness to take the subject seriously.  All of this is presented as intercut scenes with the present day situation the film begins with.  On the morning of their fifth anniversary, Nick comes home to find there may have been a home invasion and Amy is missing.  It’s not long before the media circus begins, and two detectives arrive on scene, Detective Boney (Kim Dickens) and Officer Gilpin (Patrick Fugit), intent on making Nick suspect number one. There are even shades of the O.J. Simpson case when Tyler Perry shows up as a John Cochran like attorney interested in what quickly becomes a high profile case.  It is at this point the film delves into a number of different directions which must be experienced to be believed.  As I mentioned previously, the film is more than meets the eye.

     To reveal any of the details of the second and third acts would not be ethical on my part.  Fincher has orchestrated a film that will remind you of everything from Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” to DePalma’s “Dressed To Kill”, and maybe even a bit of Verhoeven’s “Basic Instinct” can found within its DNA.  Flynn’s adaptation of her novel is taut and full of memorable conversation and timely humor.  Pike’s performance is worthy of an acting nomination as we have not seen as effective a performance of this kind since, perhaps, Sharon Stone’s in the aforementioned “Basic Instinct”.  And isn’t it time we give proper notice to the acting chops possessed by Ben Affleck?  His performance is subtle, yet also effective as we completely buy him as a man who has made mistakes in his marriage and finds his world falling apart as he becomes a prime suspect in his wife’s disappearance.  With his trademark desaturated color tones and meticulous shot compositions, Fincher’s vision explodes on screen in nearly every scene as the film is both an emotional and technical marvel.  You have to wonder exactly what he’s trying to say about the union between a man and a woman as well as the role the media plays in allowing people to be unjustly tried in the court of public opinion.  Is he expressing through these characters that couples have no chance in modern society?  Certainly a debate to be had another day.   An awards contender for sure, “Gone Girl” is one of the best and most satisfying films of the year.