Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl is a hugely entertaining page turner, a whip-smart examination of a marriage gone wrong and a he-said, she-said mystery with an unforeseeable outcome. With such highly popular source material, adapting the novel into a feature film may have seemed like a daunting task for some, but if there’s any director who could do it, it’s David Fincher. Fincher has directed some of the best thrillers of the last 20 years and I’m happy to report that Gone Girl ranks right up there with some of his best films. It’s completely engrossing from beginning to end and those not familiar with the source material will be absolutely floored by some of the twists and turns that this movie makes. It’s a harrowing mystery, a darkly funny critique of marriage and one of the best films of the year.

Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) disappeared from her home on July 5th, which just so happened to be the day of her wedding anniversary. Her husband Nick (Ben Affleck) arrives home to discover a front door that’s been left wide open and a partially destroyed living room. He quickly calls the police and Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) arrives to investigate the scene. As days go by with still no sign of Amy, Nick’s actions begin to look suspicious. Why does he seem to know so little about his wife? Why does he smile for the cameras when his wife is missing? And why does he seem to be keeping a secret from the police? Nick swears that he didn’t have anything to do with Amy’s disappearance, but as the public begins to turn against him, he’s forced to hire a hotshot lawyer (Tyler Perry) and figure out what really happened to Amy.

Gone Girl excels on nearly every level. The screenplay, written by Flynn herself, is full of scene after scene of fascinating conversations between characters who always appear to be hiding a secret, just below the surface. The timeline of the film alternates between Amy’s disappearance and the history of Nick and Amy’s relationship, chronicled entirely by Amy in her diary. It’s fascinating to watch their relationship both blossom and crumble before our very eyes. Even before Amy goes missing, it’s clear that she and Nick are not happy and finding out how they became this way works as a commentary on how difficult it can be to stay together in today’s society. But the film even goes beyond this; the extreme, heightened scenario that the Dunne’s are placed in may be rare, but the actions that they take while in this strange scenario are simply exaggerations of what many people do while in a marriage. Couples lie to each other, pretend to be someone else and struggle for power. Flynn writes these characters as hyperbolic to satirize modern relationships.

But with such a dense screenplay, a great director was absolutely crucial to make this film a success and David Fincher delivers. You know that there’s a great director at the helm when a nearly two and a half hour film flies through its runtime without a single scene dragging or feeling unimportant. This can also be attributed to the fantastic editing from Oscar winner Kirk Baxter. His work on Fincher’s last two films has snagged him two Academy Awards and it would be of no surprise if his work here netted him another. Not only does the film never feel long, but it also alternates between two separate timelines without ever feeling hectic or confusing. And just look at a montage that occurs around the film’s halfway point; not only does it feature wickedly funny dialogue that provides a moment of clarity to the audience, but every individual shot combines to produce a montage that ends up being one of the greatest scenes in the entire film.

Looking past the editing, we can see that Fincher has utilized his typically unique visual style and it meshes perfectly with the content and the tone of the picture. Like most of Fincher’s films the cinematography by Jeff Cronenworth has a greenish tint to it, producing beautifully eerie images. But it’s not just the images in the film that feel eerie. Fincher makes sure that there is a constantly foreboding sensation at hand; the feeling that something isn’t quite right, but you just can’t place your finger on it. Adding to this is the beautifully understated score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, once again proving that their work with Fincher is a match made in movie score heaven. And if the characters, the cinematography, the tone and the score don’t make you squirm in your seat, there’s a scene towards the films climax that is guaranteed to shock and disturb. The scene was pretty off-putting in the novel, but Fincher takes it to completely different level. Not only did the scene leave me totally slack-jawed, but it also managed to surprise me despite having read the source material.

Ben Affleck has been a staple in Hollywood for over 15 years, but his performance as Nick Dunne might just be one of the best he’s ever given. From the film’s opening lines, where Nick talks about cracking open his wife’s skull to see what comes pouring out, Nick gives off such a strange, discomforting feeling. He certainly doesn’t seem like a bad guy, but some of his actions and choices seem peculiar. Affleck nails this performance, walking a fine line between being discomforting and outright creepy. Perhaps the strongest performance in the film belongs to Rosamund Pike. Her initial performance may feel one-dimensional, but as the film progresses, new information is learned about her and Pike reveals a whole new layer of acting chops. As Nick’s sister Margo, Carrie Coon is excellent, perfectly portraying her character’s love for her brother and her frustration with the choices that he ends up making. Other great additions to the cast include Kim Dickens as determined investigator Rhonda Boney, Tyler Perry as the extremely professional Tanner Bolt and Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s former lover, Desi Collings.

Where the narrative ends up may surprise viewers and some may even leave the theater with an incredible sense of frustration with how things are resolved. This missing person’s case doesn’t give everyone a happy ending, but neither do all marriages. On an initial viewing, some of the film’s critiques of marriage, the media and law enforcement may not be immediately recognizable, but that’s simply because this is such a tight thriller that there isn’t much time given to evaluate everything that the film is trying to say below the surface. A rewatch is almost necessary to further unravel all the secrets, messages and gallows humor that have somehow been packed into one single film. With Gone Girl, David Fincher has once again proven that he’s nothing short of a master behind the camera.

Gone Girl receives 4/4

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