Worried husband or cold-blooded criminal?
David Fincher knows how to keep audiences from zoning out during opening credits. The director shares them in an unsettling way in his adaptation of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. He immediately makes it clear what he's going to deliver: the cinematic equivalent of a page-turner.
The setup from Flynn's book is tabloid perfection. Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home from work on his fifth wedding anniversary to find his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), missing, with evidence of a struggle in the house. As Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) begins investigating, the pieces don't add up. Flashbacks show us scenes from the couple's marriage, which Amy's captured in her diary, and the picture gets murkier. Is Nick a worried husband or a calculating murderer? The pirouettes and reversals in Flynn's storytelling will keep you wondering.
The performances aren't quite as impressive as the narrative. Affleck is well cast as Nick, but he lacks some key qualities that are needed when the nature of Nick's personality is in doubt. Pike, however, is terrific as Amy, a woman who grew up in the shadow of her parents' bestselling children's books. Her performance becomes more complex with every minute of screen time.
Fincher ultimately nails the most fascinating subtext of Gone Girl: the media circus and public insta-reaction that accompany high-profile crime cases. Pundits discuss whether Nick looks guilty when he poses next to Amy's picture, and whether there's something sordid about his close relationship with his twin sister (UW grad and American Players Theatre alum Carrie Coon). When a savvy defense attorney (Tyler Perry) takes Nick's case, the focus becomes how to present Nick to the public. A frenzy erupts thanks to the opinions of people who have no clue what really happened in the Dunne house. This, of course, could affect whether Nick faces a capital murder charge.
Gone Girl is tough on the media, but its depiction of a disintegrating marriage is even harsher. It's somewhat less effective, too. Where Flynn's book has time to paint a brutal portrait of two people who may truly deserve each other, Fincher's movie has to traverse the dense plot at a pace that keeps audiences engaged. Fincher does this with comic juxtapositions that make dark material irresistible. For instance, he cuts directly from Nick and Amy sharing a romantic kiss to police swabbing Nick's mouth for a DNA sample. This may be a 2-1/2-hour film, but it moves with impressive economy, much like the page-turning book it's based upon.