Nick Dunne is having a bad day. He’s at loose ends, chugging a late-morning bourbon at the tavern he owns, dreading the conversation he needs to have with his wife, Amy, on this, their fifth wedding anniversary. Returning home, he finds the door ajar, a table smashed and his wife missing.
If you have read the bestselling novel “Gone Girl,” you know that Nick’s bad day will get much worse, spiraling down the rabbit hole into a nightmarish crash.
For those unfamiliar with Gillian Flynn’s torrid page turner, David Fincher’s new film (with a screenplay adapted by Flynn) quite faithfully spools out the pulpy details of a story that constantly reinvents itself. Buckle up, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Fincher (“Benjamin Button,” “Social Network”) rises to the mood and imagery of this chiaroscuro portrait. Frequent collaborator Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) colors in Fincher’s vision with a tense soundscape. Fincher’s eye falls on Flynn’s story in a style not unlike his vision for “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” His camera is blunt and unsentimental, his lighting schemes claustrophobic and his editing clipped.
Flynn’s great accomplishment, in her book and here, is an unstinting dedication to plot mechanics that jar our balance. We are never allowed to settle into a single reality in this scheme invented from illusion, perception, lies, counter-lies and a small universe that spins out of control. Fincher uses simplicity in letting complications speak for themselves. The languid moment, or sentimental gloss, is rare.
When they lose their jobs in the 2008 recession, Nick and Amy leave New York and end up in Nick’s hometown in Missouri, underemployed. As Nick, Ben Affleck’s brawny chest heaves with dissatisfaction as he considers his life in the bland brick home they are renting. Affleck, who can seem self-important reading the phone book, here has a character who pushes the actor into the panic zone. The early confidence that things will work out becomes an illusion as circumstances wash away the underpinnings of his reality.
Rosamund Pike, whose face photographs like a work of art, brings more than her natural beauty to Amy Dunne, onetime subject of the “Amazing Amy” childhood books penned by her parents. Fincher pushes Pike in new directions, and the actor reveals a new dimension. Pike’s Amy attracts drama, thrives on danger and carries the story as it evolves in real time and flashbacks.
After Amy vanishes, Nick finds comfort in the steady common sense and counsel of his sister (Carrie Coon) and a sympathetic detective (Kim Dickens) who gives him every benefit of the doubt. These two in particular provide real-life balance to the unreal world inhabited by Nick and Amy.
Some of the hype over “Gone Girl” has focused on the media circus that descends on Nick after Amy’s absence grows into days. (“Gosh, look how terrible we are!”) Missy Kyle channels a Nancy Grace-style cable host who fans the flames, but the trope has the heavy air of cliché. More interesting is work of Tyler Perry (good to see him back in men’s clothing), contributing substance as a high-profile and savvy lawyer brought in by Nick.
Neil Patrick Harris kicks in a small but important performance as a rich and emotionally stunted playboy.
“Gone Girl” goes beyond the mere decay of a marriage. Fincher’s film sketches characters of brazen amorality and compromises — sane in appearance but ultimately insane — in their attempts to be players in the normal world. Or, it’s just a twisty ride on the roller coaster of suspense and illusion. Nothing wrong with that.