The first rule of Gone Girl is you don't talk about Gone Girl. To do so would be to spoil what is certainly one of the most addictive, edgy films of the year. So I'll do my best not to do that. I didn't read Gillian Flynn's book, nor did I watch Ben Affleck on The Daily Show or David Fincher on The View (but I would if it happened). I wanted to go in fresh. Fincher, who made Seven 19 years ago, remains the industry's premier thriller-maker. He's the closest thing we have to Hitchcock today - a master storyteller, just with better cameras.
An ominous shot of Rosamund Pike begins Gone Girl. She's lying down looking up, a bone-chilling distance in her eyes. Watching it, I couldn't help remembering Sheryl Lee in Twin Peaks as Laura Palmer. Beautiful women with dark secrets have long enraptured audiences and Pike's role as Amy Dunne in Gone Girl is one of these. She's everything interesting about the film, a femme fatale of the highest order.
Fincher, as he did in Seven, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Zodiac, takes a step back stylistically to enhance the reality of the terror. Gone Girl, adapted by Gillian Flynn from her own bestselling novel, is expertly shot, edited, and acted. Fincher hides the film's big reveal like a master and deploys it to stunning effect as the movie creeps towards its finish. If the film has a weakness, it's the ending, which slows the torrid pace. But still, it doesn't ruin the methodical insanity that precedes it.
Set in the anonymity of suburban Missouri, where it feels like anyone could just disappear forever, Gone Girl begins with that shot of Amy looking up. What's she thinking? The movie challenges us from the beginning to consider what's behind an empty look, a fleeting glance. Because here, in this world, they are everything. Amy and her husband, Nick (Affleck), are writers who moved back to Nick's hometown because his mother got sick and they couldn't find work. Wisely, Fincher reveals little else except to highlight the fact Nick and Amy live in a giant house and seem to have it all.
One day, Nick returns home to find his coffee table smashed and his wife missing. He calls the cops. They come; they look; they mark suspicious spots around the house with Post-its, but they've got nothing. Amy doesn't come back and is soon declared missing. The media swarms, and Nick ignites the firestorm by smiling at the press conference while acting strangely aloof in general. Why is he being weird? He must be guilty. Is he just a nervous idiot, or is he really happy his girl's gone? Incidentally, the flippancy of the title may be the most unsettling thing about the whole movie.
Meanwhile, Gone Girl has a not-so-savvy way of commenting on a number of relevant social topics. Much of the film satirizes the American media as Nick is villainized in the court of public opinion by Nancy Grace-like talk show hosts. The truth, or the search for it anyways, is pushed to page 12 as usual. No one is on the level and that is part of the essence of great noir. Unraveling the reality of each character, scene, and event is the fun of the film.
Women's roles are another theme of Gone Girl. Amy, a Harvard-educated, obviously intelligent woman, is relegated to housewife duty in Missouri, something she loathes and resents her husband for. Nick complains he's "sick of being picked apart by women" and, mentally, we picture all the females in his life: Amy, his faithful sister Margo (Carrie Coon), his mother-in-law (Lisa Banes), Detective Boney (Kim Dickens), and a young student (Emily Ratajkowski) whom Nick has a special relationship with. Nick's life is ruled by these ladies, and he uses each of them as he sees fit while lamenting his own plight. He's like a guy waiting for the guillotine who keeps confessing.
What's most admirable about this film, in the end, is the professional direction of Fincher, who weaves much of the story over the course of a month while intermittently inserting flashbacks that introduce Amy and flesh her out. In the middle, the two narratives merge and the movie really takes off. For their parts, Affleck and Pike are both compelling. Affleck proves a worthy choice as Nick, balancing the character by never revealing too much. And Pike is very simply, marvelous, but I can't tell you why.