“Gone Girl,” Reviewed: Love, American Style.

gone girl (fox) blog

David Fincher can build a scene of nightmarish audiovisual intensity like no one else working today. His latest example of this falls in the third act of his tenth feature, Gone Girl (rated R), with a sex scene that starts off merely sordid and swiftly escalates into a masterpiece of Grand Guignol horror. It’s a startling moment of visceral power that gives physical weight to the mental torment and misery inflicted upon – and by – Nick and Amy Dunne (Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike), the marrieds at the center of this bizarrely intimate domestic thriller.

Based on Gillian Flynn’s bestselling 2012 novel (with a screenplay by Flynn), Gone Girl is loaded with creaky plot points, but it’s a credit to all involved that you just don’t care. It draws you in and closes the door behind you before you even realize you’re in a dark room, trusting your hosts to show you the way out. The story pivots on a single moment of discovery: On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick – a failed journalist turned frustrated bar owner who knows he’s married above his station – comes home to find his house in a shambles. Amy – a New York trust-fund sophisticate who moved with Nick to his Missouri hometown after an economic downturn – is nowhere to be found.

The local police (Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit) investigate with practiced gusto, but can find neither Amy (or her body) nor enough evidence to implicate Nick – who, it soon becomes clear, had plenty of reasons to want to be free of his wife. Five years together was more than enough time for the cracks to show in this initially watertight union; through first-person flashbacks of Amy reading her journal, we follow the slow erosion from Happily Ever After to ’Til Death Do Us Part. Fincher and Flynn work together to chronicle that awful progression with sharp, poignant glee – they’re twisting a cynical knife in the back of the very institution of marriage, and having a grand old time in the process.

What they don’t do – for the first hour, at least – is explain exactly what the heck is going on. What happened to Amy? Was Nick involved? And is that second question more complicated than it sounds? All is made clear, of course, and not without a certain degree of fuzzy logic being unspooled along the way. Gone Girl isn’t a flawless film, but its sureness of purpose and the talent with which it tells its tale make it sticky: No one who see it will forget it any time soon. That kind of greatness doesn’t always win awards, but it’s more meaningful in its own way.

Much of the picture’s success is carried on the backs of a stellar cast. Pike’s ice-queen elegance would have made her right at home in any Hitchcock film, and she’s really fine here as a complex woman unfairly dismissed by everyone as being someone’s daughter, someone’s neighbor, someone’s wife. And Affleck, whose skills as an actor have never matched his recently discovered directorial talent, taps into his well-earned underachiever persona to deliver a definitive performance: His Nick is the promising youth who never goes anywhere but back home, and whose sole life’s achievement – marrying well – eventually turns black and sour.

Fincher has attracted criticism over the years for misogynistic themes woven into his films, but if that trait isn’t completely absent here, his sights are trained on a bigger target – he’s taking aim at our modern ideas of marriage and family, and giving us all permission to look with a jaundiced eye at those we might otherwise hold dear. I’d tell you I loved Gone Girl, but suddenly I’m not sure the phrase doesn’t sound a little more ironic than it used to.

(IMAGE: Ben Affleck in Gone Girl. Photo courtesy 20th Century Fox.)