GONE GIRL * * * 1 / 2
Starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens and Tyler Perry. Screenplay by Gillian Flynn. Directed by David Fincher.
Gone Girl is a blast.
It’s a pulpy, sweaty and often insanely preposterous thriller that represents a challenge for reviewers. Being for the most part unfamiliar with Gillian Flynn’s bestseller (copies never lingered at the used bookstore where I work long enough for me to read more than a chapter or so before they got snapped up — last summer somebody even bought the one I had my face buried in behind the counter, that’s when I gave up on trying to read it) I was tickled pink by the clockwork procession of increasingly outré plot twists and shocking reveals, impeccably orchestrated to go off every twenty minutes or so in the theatre like time bombs.
As I would never wish to dampen the pleasure of so many lunatic reversals for all of you, what can I say about Gone Girl without spoiling anything? Well, what I can tell you is that it’s a throwback to a certain brand of quote-unquote adult thriller –sexy and semi-sophisticated but still broadly cartoonish– that was all the rage twenty-odd years ago but we seldom see anymore. Talking with my friend Matt Zoller Seitz after the film, I said it was an even better Michael Douglas movie than the one its director David Fincher actually made with Michael Douglas. Matt replied that it felt like “the missing third panel of a triptych that included Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct.”
So you know the drill here, right? A handsome and somewhat less-than-bright man with a dimpled chin who can’t keep it in his pants finds his world turned upside down and bedeviled by crazy bitches who just might have some very valid points. Ben Affleck isn’t the first actor who comes to mind when you think of this generation’s Michael Douglas surrogate, but he’s surprisingly up to the task. Vaguely embarrassing, charming but always bumping up against the outer edges of likability, and he’s even got the chin.
Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a one-time hotshot writer for men’s magazines who went back to Missouri and opened a bar after the recession when all those journalism jobs started disappearing. His wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), is resentful New York trust fund royalty – her parents penned a series of hugely popular children’s books about her childhood, in which she was dubbed Amazing Amy.
But Amy’s life wasn’t all that amazing after all, and if Gone Girl is about anything it’s about the importance of keeping up appearances in a place and a time when other people’s perceptions are far more important than your particular reality. This is bad news for Nick, who comes home the afternoon of their fifth anniversary to find that Amy has vanished, with signs of a struggle and blood spatters on the wall.
Nick looks guilty as sin, and even worse he’s bad on camera. Playing directly into every glib, unctuous mannerism that has sunk so much of Affleck’s onscreen work, Gone Girl grapples head-on with Affleck’s “sincerity problem” so much that it’s tricky to tell if it’s a brilliant performance or he’s just being brilliantly used. Whatever the case, it’s impossible to imagine any other (better) actors doing so well in this role.
Gone Girl is a potboiler about media cycles, about getting ahead of the story and trying to stay there. It’s about learning to sell your better bullshit self to the public, and it takes a deliciously jaundiced view of that very same selling as part and parcel of our most precious interpersonal relationships. Nobody has ever accused David Fincher of having a sunny outlook, and after watching this movie I’m not surprised to find out he’s divorced.
He’s a ruthlessly good filmmaker, though. Gone Girl is one propulsive piece of work, with scene transitions always cutting half a second before you expect them to (even the fade-outs occur at lightning speed) barreling through a whole lotta plot and allowing space for some weird grace notes.
Fincher and his cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth don’t do eye-lighting. Usually the first thing you learn in any photography class is to blast an entire separate light source directly into your subject’s eyes, as this makes them more accessible and relatable. Fincher doesn’t do that, which may be why his characters always feel so remote and aloof, something that comes in handy in a picture predicated on as many mysteries as this one.
And lording over it all is Tyler Perry, delivering a scene-stealing performance as Affleck’s overpriced, seen-it-all attorney. Perry navigates Gone Girl like he’s the half-amused host of a tawdry, slightly out-of-control daytime talk show, and brings the house down pointing out: “You motherfuckers are all crazy.”
So is the movie. You should go see it.