GONE GIRL is an elegantly rendered, yet lurid potboiler of a movie. Director David Fincher brings his characteristic darkness, literal and figurative to an already dark tale of subterfuge, murder, and the secrets we keep from everyone, including ourselves. Based on the novel of the same name by screenwriter Gillian Flynn, it gifts us with a deliciously guilty pleasure as we wallow in the morass of other peoples messy lives and basest instincts.
The girl of the title is Amy (Rosamund Pike), the charming, beautiful, rich and sophisticated wife of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck). She disappeared one morning under suspicious circumstances, viz to wit., the coffee table is smashed to bits; the iron she was using is still hot, and Nicks alibi is that he as all alone in a lonely spot pondering his life. He followed that cogitation by visiting his twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon) at the bar they jointly own, where he slammed back a bourbon and groused about the state of his marriage, which has been going downhill since he moved them from New York City to North Carthage, Missouri.
Its enough for the pragmatic detective on the case (Kim Dickins) to put Nick firmly on the suspect list, though with only traces of blood, but neither a body nor murder weapon, she knows shes not going to be making any sort of case that would hold up in a court of law. Knowing that a confession is her only option, or Nick making a very stupid mistake, and knowing Nick doesnt know this, she cleverly plays him, waiting for him to take enough rope to hang himself.
Not that the court of public opinion needs an airtight case. Rabble-rousing television personality Ellen Abbot (a wondrously shrill Missi Pyle) provides a running backdrop to the action as she fills the airwaves with insinuation of the lowest order, and indignation of the highest dudgeon, thereby making Amys disappearance the hottest trending topic in a nation that loves scandal above everything, especially facts.
Told by cutting between flashbacks from Amys journal that describes the arc of her romance and marriage with Nick, and the present day as Nick is revealed to be less than an angel, we soon discover that nothing is quite what it seems, except for the medias voracious hunger for a tabloid story featuring a sweetheart and a villain.
There is a visceral kick in watching everyone around Nick begin to suspect the worst, including Amys parents, and his sister with whom he takes refuge. For all the de rigeur nods to how those closest to us can remain complete strangers, the best thing in GONE GIRL is the way it perfectly delineates the media culture that infects even those who think they are above being swayed by such obvious ratings-chasing trash, and doesnt worry about the casualties it creates.
It also provides a showcase for Affleck, fresh off his own sweetheart persona after being snubbed by not getting an Oscar nomination for last years ARGO. In an interesting career move, he plays a cad, though the word in the film is much stronger. Yet this cad is not an evil guy, just weak, and perhaps not quite as perceptive as he thought he was. Pike as his Amy, though, has the more interesting character, and she is nothing less than dazzling, offering hints about what lurks beneath that placid expression without ever giving too much away. And kudos to Tyler Perry as the brilliant, unapologetically headline-chasing attorney taking on Nicks case as much for the challenge as the notoriety and money. It may be his best performance to date with its deliberate charm and iffy moral compass.
GONE GIRL sets us up to have our expectations subverted, and it does so with finesse and style. It doesnt matter if you figure out the truth earlier than the film might want you to. What follows is stunningly, beautifully shocking, even if its not entirely surprising, and then it tops itself. It may not be great art, but its terrific entertainment, and, Im guessing, the start of a few arguments about the true nature of relationships.