Like Gillian Flynn's best-selling 2012 novel of the same name, "Gone Girl" relies on the careful, methodic unpeeling of its many intentionally cagey layers. Said layers, however, do not hold quite the same complexity in cinematic form, with Flynn (as screenwriter) streamlining and dulling the edges of her lead couple's motivations. The story of a toxic marriage inside a jigsaw puzzle of interlocking pieces that prove revelatory once connected, the film is first and foremost set up as a mystery about a missing, quite possibly murdered, person. Director David Fincher (2011's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
") gives each of his pictures a locational specificity and brooding trance-like style all its own, and it is by his sheer filmmaking bravado and the superlative work of his actors that "Gone Girl" ensures the viewer keeps watching and (if he or she hasn't read the book) guessing. It is only in hindsight, after all is said and done, that some of the parts don't quite add up to a satisfying whole. For a movie that relies so heavily on the filmic equivalent of a magic trick, will there really be enough substance to hang ontoand buy intoduring repeat viewings?
On his fifth wedding anniversary, former-Manhattan-writer-turned-Missouri-bar-owner Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns to his suburban North Carthage home to find his front door hanging open and what looks to be the aftermath of a struggle inside. His wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), is nowhere to be found. Detectives Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) are called to investigate the scene of a potential crime, finding a small trace of blood spatter on the kitchen cabinets and an envelope in Amy's drawer reading "Clue One"the first in an ongoing game Nick says she plays with him each year leading to his anniversary gift. When word gets out that Amythe inspiration for her author parents' best-selling "Amazing Amy" book serieshas disappeared, the media swarm the area to prod Nick's life and probe his on-camera behavior in search of a sensationalistic story. Twin Margo (Carrie Coon) is sympathetic to her brother's plight, but shelike everyonebegins to question how much she really knows about Nick and his relationship when questions of infidelity and revelations from Amy's diary rise to the surface.
"Gone Girl" is nothing if not absorbing, beginning as a sort of investigative procedural before corkscrewing halfway through to become something else entirely. So much of the movie depends on the element of surprise that it is impossible to be totally forthcoming. What can be said is that the present-day material of Nick facing the reality of a vanished wife and the glare of the media's spotlight is balanced by flashbacks to Amy's truth as her diary musings reveal what may have led her to her current fate. Attending news conferences and a candlelight vigil alongside Amy's worried mother (Lisa Banes) and father (David Clennon), Nick tries to act the part of a devastated spouse while going through a reality of emotions that do not quite match what everyone expects of him. As critical, ratings-minded television journalists such as Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle) begin to sway public opinions and the detectives continue to dig, Detective Boney's skepticism over Nick's involvement gradually dissolves. What she and Gilpin suspect may have happened, however, is far from the truth.
Ben Affleck (2012's "Argo
") and Rosamund Pike (2012's "Jack Reacher
") could not conceivably have been more perfectly cast as handsome, people-pleasing liar Nick and the enigmatic, high-sounding Amy. Both roles are tricky and less than lovablethese are combative, egotistical individuals who bring out the worst in each other the longer they are togetherbut they are also supremely watchable. Nick has made a lot of mistakes and betrayed loved ones, but is he a cold-blooded murderer? Stifled by her new small-town surroundings, Manhattanite Amy devotedly moved with Nick to North Carthage to care for his ill mother, then found herself adrift without purpose when her husband decided to stay put even after the woman's death. Brief glances into their troubled marriage feel like sketches rather than fully formed portraits, but Affleck and Pike are tremendously accurateif not as developedembodiments of the literary creations they are playing.
As Margo, an earthy, identifiable Carrie Coon (HBO's "The Leftovers") displays a love for brother Nick that palpably shines through, even when she makes a series of discoveries that force her to reevaluate his character. As Ellen Abbott, Missi Pyle (2014's "A Haunted House 2
") does a bull's-eye interpretation of a Nancy Grace-ish crime show host who makes up her mind about Nick the moment Amy goes missing. Neil Patrick Harris (2014's "A Million Ways to Die in the West
") gives a memorable part-lonely/part-creepy ambience to Desi Collings, a suspicious ex-boyfriend from Amy's past. Tyler Perry (2013's "A Madea Christmas
") is fine as Nick's attorney, Tanner Bolt, but his part is purely functional and less lively and nuanced than Kim Dickens' tartly ingratiating turn as Detective Rhonda Boney and Patrick Fugit's (2011's "We Bought a Zoo
") quiet but strong-minded Detective Jim Gilpin.
From the starta quickly paced opening-credits montage of the story's Missouri milieu (moodily lensed on location by cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth)"Gone Girl" is an immersive, unusual experience. The story's time-weaving structure is wholly original and one's attention never flags from the tangled web Flynn and Fincher have woven. As expansive as the narrative's scope tries to be, the script does not match the depth that Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike try to bring to their parts. Both of their characters make life-altering decisions that are unnecessary and contrived by movie's end, while certain plot points lacking the distinctive, difficult implications of the book turn Amy into the kind of irrational gal who stakes her worth and her life on a man. An interlude involving a white trash couple (Scoot McNairy and Lola Kirke) also seems to be missing its final payoff. Watching "Gone Girl," a thought arose: if this same story had been written by a man, he would be accused of faint sexism at best and altogether hating women at worst. The film is so blisteringly cynical about romantic loveand puts the female, especially, in an uncomfortable position of blamethat it all seems to be coming in a purgative rush from someone holding a grudge. So yes, "Gone Girl" is dark, haunting, virtually hopeless and certainly seductive, but, unfortunately, not every one of its nervy provocations is quite as convincing as the last.