Terrific melodrama that stays just within possible human extremes. Gone Girl reminds me of the best murder mysteries I’ve seen on Dateline NBC — the kind that have you go, How Nuts Are These People Have To Be To Want To Pull Off Horrific Lies for That Many Months! — but there is far more to it than that. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are a fairly affluent married couple in Missouri, the latent resentments of each other are irreconcilable. One morning, the wife goes missing with nothing left but written notes of “clues” and a contrived wrecked living room. Did the man murder his wife? The affable Affleck, with his square jaw and nonchalant demeanor, is terrible with public perception and smiles on camera in front of a missing sign of his wife. This image makes all the tabloids. He becomes the most hated man in America. He anemically campaigns his innocence.
For 45 minutes I was roped-in well enough, but I couldn’t help think why did the great director David Fincher sign-on for this relatively mundane thriller, i.e., mundane only for his standards? Then the first of several plot twists are unleashed, and very subtle shifts in mood take place. Like a Brian DePalma classic, I was mesmerized.
I was in complete apprehension on several occasions with “Gone Girl.” I could sense the suffocation that the characters felt imprisoned within their homes. I could empathize with that strange emotional division married couples feel when their partner becomes an eerie mystery to them. Affleck’s bone-dry acting has its hooks, because he has the ability to look like a man who has no empathy. Pike has been such a mysterious and cold beauty for fifteen years in movies, that she is now a perfect wonder for a role like this – she has a Catherine Deneuve kind of entrancing quality.
That these emotions are manifested and felt within us, is why “Gone Girl” is such a massive word-of-mouth hit*, and why Fincher (“The Social Network,” “Zodiac”) is a master director. There is a flashback when the husband is cursing the idea of having a child to mend their marriage, and he throws his wife into the banister. “What frightened me was that I could see in him that he wanted to hurt me more,” the wife says in voice-over. Later on, that entire scene shifts in perception because we learn it wasn’t fact, but a recount that is unreliable.
I’m almost definitely sure that scene is not fact in hindsight – but the idea that I have even 1% doubt to my interpretation of the scene is what makes “Gone Girl” so exciting! I haven’t read the original novel by Gillian Flynn (she wrote the screenplay adaptation), but it’s been described by several critics as a potboiler. Even so, I hand it to her that she knows how to wring out twists and turns. There is one scene where embezzled money falls into the wrong hands, which leads a character on trek to partner up with a weird character who is financially flush but delusional when it comes to everyday social mores. What do I have to say for the direction into this completely preposterous construction of plot? Bravo.
The central performances by Affleck and Pike are unassumingly good (Pike actually, great). They both come on kind of lukewarm, and their meet-cute flashback seems synthetic – all for good reason since they don’t really make a good couple, not after the hot sex cools off. We learn eventually these two had schemes to pull off on each other. Of course, one spouse wasn’t aware the other was fully evil. But the worse twist of fate, ultimately, is how fear of social ostracization keeps one from doing the right thing.
“Gone Girl” is wickedly fun thriller, the most diabolical murder mystery since the 2011 French film “Love Crime.” With Neil Patrick Harris, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Missi Pyle, Sela Ward and Tyler Perry.
*with the birth of my beautiful son I missed the original screening date that 20th Century Fox provided me before the film came out. I only now caught up to it some five weeks later. I’m glad I doubled back, it’s one of the best films of the year.
149 Minutes. Rated R.
MYSTERY-SUSPENSE / ADULT ORIENTATION / SATURDAY NIGHT EXCITEMENT