‘Gone Girl’ review: A gripping, handsomely mounted film

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris

It’s hard to think of a director better suited to bring Gillian Flynn’s deliciously twisty bestseller to the screen than David Fincher. Having gravitated consistently towards deeply cynical stories, he has explored the more unsettling elements of human nature with a cold and clinical eye, taking us on fascinating journeys to the dark side in such moody, stylish thrillers as ‘Seven’, ‘Fight Club’ and ‘Zodiac’.

It’s no wonder that ‘Gone Girl’, with its manipulative parallel narratives designed to betray you routinely, ticks every one of Fincher’s favorite boxes. The film – part whodunit, part commentary on modern marriage – starts off as a conventional suspense story before it slowly begins to reveal itself as something much more daring.

On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home to discover that his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is missing. There is evidence of a struggle. A missing persons investigation promptly begins, and a media circus ensues. It’s not long before Nick is suspected of murder.

Employing the same unraveling device that she used in the book, Flynn, who has written the screenplay herself, cuts back and forth in time and perspective – between the ongoing investigation and Amy’s diary entries – to explain how we got here. We’re served up the story of Nick and Amy’s whirlwind courtship as a New York City fairytale. But five years later, laid off from their jobs as writers, the couple is living in small town Missouri, where Nick runs a bar with his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon), and the romance has all but fizzled.

The beauty of the novel was its crafty structure and the deceptions of its unreliable narrators. Equally interesting are the bigger themes that the film skillfully addresses: the nature of marriage, the shattering of dreams, the rush to judgment by the tabloid media, and most importantly, the discovery that we may never really know the person that we’re married to.

Fincher invokes an ominous tone, employing an appropriately dissonant soundtrack (by Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch) that aids the film’s overall sense of dread. He bathes virtually every frame in his trademark soft glow to ratchet up the tension. With a steady hand he controls this complex, multi-layered narrative, leaving you literally gasping for breath as the film inches towards a controversial climax that you can be sure will be discussed and dissected over days.

The film’s biggest strength, unquestionably, are the top-notch performances from its terrific cast. Kim Dickens gets some of the best lines as Detective Rhonda Boney, who’s leading the investigation into Amy’s whereabouts. Coon, brings a sympathetic wryness to her part as Nick’s stressed out sibling, and Tyler Perry is suitably glib as his defense lawyer Tanner Bolt, “the patron saint of wife killers”. The one wrong note, in my opinion, is Neil Patrick Harris who appears out of his depth playing Amy’s creepy childhood sweetheart.

It’s all held up, expectedly, by its two leads, who’re at the top of their game. Rosamund Pike finds a way to be both captivating and chilling as the key figure in this suspenseful film. She turns in a brave, bold performance that’ll be hard to shake off soon. It’s Ben Affleck, though, who finally lands a part worthy of his largely underutilized acting skills. He gets every little detail right in his construction of this selfish lout, yet succeeds in winning your empathy as a man punished too severely for failing to be everything that he promised.

Despite having read and thoroughly enjoyed the book already, I found Fincher’s film gripping and handsomely mounted, and still packing a few nice surprises. Gone Girl doesn’t have the enduring appeal of one of my favorite Fincher films, ‘The Social Network’, but it’s a bloody good way to spend two and a half hours of your time. I’m going with four out of five. Don’t miss it.

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