The girl is missing. So discovers Nick Dunne on the afternoon of July 5, when he walks inside his suburban, Midwestern home and notices that his wife, Amy, is nowhere to be found. A living room table rests flipped and smashed, but no other sign of struggle is apparent. The police arrive as quickly as they’re called. They notice things. A little blood splattered on the kitchen cabinet. An iron that’s still somewhat hot. Nick’s mostly blasé attitude. And so begins the search for Amy Dunne. Amy Dunne, a kind and confident American sweetheart from a well-to-do New York family who met Nick at a party all those years ago. An intense relationship was formed, one based on intellectual stimulation, passionate sex, and ease of wealth.
But all of that is in the past. Today, in the wake of Amy’s vanishing, Nick spends his time stating his case to the police, venting to his understanding sister, and helping with the search for his wife. Now, this being a David Fincher film, Gone Girl is, of course, engulfed in a latent danger that always keeps us on edge. Although Nick is suspected of killing Amy, Fincher never reveals more than he needs to. We never really know who’s at fault, because Fincher refuses to portray his characters through a judgmental lens.
The film is based on Gillian Flynn’s wildly popular novel, and although it is unread by me, I can understand how that text reached such massive success. Flynn, who also wrote the film’s script, has created something that transcends a generic whodunit. The film has a lot of very interesting and very damning things to say about the institution of marriage, America’s absurd fascination with “sexy” crimes, and the laughably misguided media cycle. But beyond Gone Girl’s ingenious narrative structure (which I haven’t even begun to touch on), Flynn has a serious knack for accurate language. The way Nick and his sister, Margo, speak to one another, for example, is exactly how two people who’ve known each other their entire lives converse. There’s nothing overtly showy about Flynn’s dialogue; it’s simply real and precise, which is hard to find in a modern movie of this size.
Nick Dunne is, without question, the most fully realized and expertly played leading part Ben Affleck has ever inhabited. Nick is a damn challenging character to portray. His arc begins almost humorously, as if he’s some small town buffoon who has no idea how much trouble he could be in. When said trouble becomes apparent, a panic slowly consumes Nick. In a recent interview with Playboy, David Fincher said he cast Affleck in the role because of a crucial scene in which Nick poses for a photograph in front of Amy’s missing poster. During that brief sequence, one of the photographers asks Nick to smile, which he does. It’s a smile that haunts Nick for the rest of the film. The press calls it smug and creepy, the smile of a sociopath. Scott Peterson by way of North Carthage, Missouri. But whenever we start to feel bad for the guy, Affleck does something that reminds us that he could be guilty. The actor cautiously and consistently toes the line of did he or didn’t he, leaving us with a wonderfully captivating and mysterious performance.
In the ensuing months, you’re likely to hear plenty of praise for Gone Girl. Praise for Affleck’s nuanced turn and Fincher’s tight direction. Praise for Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ subtle score, for Kirk Baxter’s looping editing, for Gillian Flynn’s confident script. Noting all this, the amount of praise Rosamund Pike earns for her work as Amy should be endless. It’s difficult to explain the power, depth and emotional frenzy of her performance without revealing too much about the film, but as Amy, Pike delivers some of the finest acting I’ve seen in years. If there’s an actor (male or female) who has given a better performance so far this year, then I certainly haven’t seen it. Gone Girl is Pike’s show, and she seizes it with vigor. You may recognize Pike from her previous work as a Bond girl in Die Another Day, a Bennet sister in Pride & Prejudice, a lethal lawyer in Fracture, or an amusing floozy in An Education. But Gone Girl presents a Rosamund Pike none of us have seen before. Believe me, we’re going to be talking about Amy Dunne for a good long while.
Like all of David Fincher’s best films, Gone Girl demands repeat viewings. I’ve seen it once, and I feel as though I’ve hardly scratched the surface of its layers and intricacies. The girl is missing, certainly. And you’re best to continue to keep looking. A