In the early scenes of Gone Girl, we’re not sure if we like Nick Dunne, the “hero” of the piece, played by Ben Affleck. He’s handsome, has a salt of the earth quality and a younger sister who adores him. Yet, there’s something about him that doesn’t seem entirely trustworthy. This feeling grows once his sophisticated, upper class New Yorker wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) disappears. The cops and even Nick’s family question his innocence, as Amy, a mid-range celebrity, becomes a famous missing person and her husband the number one suspect.
As adapted for the screen by Gillian Flynn, author of the bestselling novel upon which it’s based, this extremely faithful film version is rewarding in its commentary on the cycle of media reporting equating information. It also taps into the button-pushing nature of marital intimacy, which gives the story a lingering power and confrontational nature unusual for a mainstream thriller.
We need movies like Gone Girl, which asks difficult, un-answerable questions about how we latch onto the idea of a perfect romance. The word “idea” is key. Does anyone truly know their spouse? A better question the movie asks is, how much does someone really want to know about the person you share your bed, ideas and days with?
David Fincher’s chilling, cynical thriller is the antidote to a decade of Nicholas Sparks weepies, shallow romantic comedies, and anyone who believes happiness is the sole end goal to a relationship. This is coming from a happily married romantic who willingly watches When Harry Met Sally… once a year. I believe in true love. What I hate are the pop culture sensations of late that paint romance as a stalker fantasy (Twilight) or a materialistic, fixer-upper portrait of puppy love (The Notebook).
The subtext of Gone Girl is tough, provocative debate fodder but on the surface, this is great storytelling. Fincher dials down his considerable talents as a visualist, though several scenes remind us he’s the brilliant filmmaker who gave us Seven and, his career best, Zodiac. While his latest isn’t as dizzying as Fight Club, it may prove as controversial.
A key aspect is how both Nick and Amy are fantasies, representing the possibilities of obtaining the American Dream and maintaining appearances as The Perfect Spouse. The protagonists are every bit as appealing, and despicable, as Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in The War of the Roses.
Let’s tip-toe around the story and the shocking surprises it holds. Instead, I’ll note how every actor is perfectly matched with their character. Affleck has rarely been this good, bringing his own baggage as a former tabloid survivor to a refreshingly vulnerable portrayal.
Pike is just as good, if a little over the top. Carrie Coon (as Nick’s sister), Missi Pyle (as a tabloid show host), Kim Dickens (playing a sharp detective), Neil Patrick Harris (cast against type as a wealthy creep) and an astonishingly good Tyler Perry (as Nick’s lawyer) made the deepest impressions.
The movies that shake up our views on modern romance, offering a counterpoint to easy romanticism, remain essential pop culture responses to the sappy hits of their decade. The heartbreaking Looking for Mr. Goodbar cured us of the self-important suds of Love Story. Fatal Attraction was a cinematic wake-up call, tapping into monogamy in the 1980s, asking messy questions on the nature of sexual responsibility. Indecent Proposal inadvertently made audiences ask themselves how much their relationships resemble a form of prostitution.
Gone Girl paints a disquieting love story in the post-O.J trial/ current technology-obsessed age of text-message romance. Like those argument-igniting, bloody valentine date movies before it, Fincher’s latest is terrific entertainment that leaves bruises.