Following up his adaptation of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, David Fincher has chosen another literary phenomenon to bring to the big screen in Gillian Flynn’s murder-mystery page-turner Gone Girl. While the dark thriller trappings are right up Fincher’s alley, this is the man who brought us Se7en and Zodiac at his most playful, delivering one of the juiciest, most flat-out entertaining films of his career.
The crux of the film is the battle-of-the-sexes narrative that unfolds between seemingly perfect married couple Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike). With the recession taking its toll on their marriage – he went through a prolonged period of unemployment, supported by her trust fund – the Dunnes aren’t in the best place when their fifth anniversary rolls around and Amy mysteriously goes missing, prompting a nationwide media circus and a thorough police investigation, both of which are keen to point the finger at Nick.
The film’s first half effectively establishes the couple through Nick’s involvement in the investigation, his relationship with Amy’s parents and the details of his personal life that begin to emerge but also through the interwoven flashbacks told from Amy’s point of view. Narrated by excerpts from her diary, the flashbacks give us Amy’s version of their relationship from a telling meetcute and a kiss in a sugar storm to the strained final weeks before Amy’s disappearance.
The nature of Amy’s disappearance is revealed earlier than expected and changes our perceptions of Nick, Amy and their entire marriage in the space of one scene and one searing monologue about ‘the cool girl’ – “a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping”. This hits at the central theme of Gone Girl, which is above all else about image and how we choose to present certain sides of ourselves and conceal others.
When they first meet, Amy asks Nick “Who are you?” but that isn’t a simple question for anyone given the different masks we wear on a daily basis and the thoughts, feelings and actions we hide from the world, even those closest to us. Nick and Amy both have closets full of skeletons that they keep from each other and through the course of Gone Girl, those nasty secrets emerge in different ways. It’s all amplified by the intense scrutiny the whole affair is under from the media and Fincher takes a satirical look at how news outlets cover such cases, especially with Missi Pyle’s Nancy Grace surrogate desperate to present the most salacious story possible.
Given the ever-evolving nature of their roles, Affleck and Pike both give strong performances. As we see the different angles of their relationship, our sympathies shift between the two and back again with the film never really letting either one off the hook for their actions; it’s left up to the audience to decide who they root for, no matter how extreme their actions. Pike has the juicier role and rises to the challenge giving a wonderfully layered performance that presents many different sides to what is a very complex character. Affleck meanwhile is suitably hard to read and that evasiveness helps justify the doubt around Nick, what he’s hiding and what he does and doesn’t know.
The central pair are surrounded by an excellent supporting cast with Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens excelling in the first half as Nick’s sister and the detective on the case respectively, while the second half is enlivened by Neil Patrick Harris’ preening ex-boyfriend and Tyler Perry’s surprisingly funny celebrity lawyer.
Ultimately, Gone Girl is a worthy addition to Fincher’s filmography that hits the same twisty, pulpy highs as his earlier films Se7en and The Game. The much-hyped mystery is eventually deflated but what comes in its place is a far more interesting story littered with genuine shocks and a streak of jet-black humour. The mix of pulp thrills and rich themes is well balanced and like it or not – many won’t – there’s plenty to talk about after the end credits roll.