Sure, there are the usual twists and turns, but they don’t dominate the narrative. Yes, we are stuck with a pair of unreliable narrators, but both deceive in (dis)service of the end result. With David Fincher at the controls and a series of subtexts strewn about, what could have been a basic missing persons drama becomes something far more meaningful, something far more daring. It’s terrific, and terrifying.
Ben Affleck, who went through his own phase as a tawdry TMZ tabloid package (remember “Bennifer???” ) stars as Nick Dunne, a man who has long lived in the shadow of his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike). She’s the subject of a celebrated book series by her parents (David Clennon and Lisa Banes) and, over the course of their five-year marriage, he has grown disgruntled and uneasy. A family tragedy brings him back to his Midwestern roots, where he opens a bar with his sister Margo (Carrie Coon). On the day of their fifth anniversary, Amy unexpectedly goes missing.
Nick is immediately considered a suspect in her disappearance and the policemen in charge of the case, Detective Rhonda Boney and Officer Jim Gilpin (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) begin searching for clues. Once the media pounces on the situation, our desperate hero finds himself tried and sentenced in the court of public opinion. Only two people can potentially help him, a slick lawyer named Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) and Amy’s ex-boyfriend, Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris).
There’s a lot more plot in Gone Girl, but to discuss it further would undermine what Fincher and his writer, Girl novelist Gillian Flynn, have to offer. As much as this is a movie about characters, it’s actually more about what these characters do that’s so compelling. The various themes explored — the meaning of marriage, ancillary fame, media hounding, trial by television, what does it take to be a cold blooded, conniving person and how that can be hidden and/or abandoned for the sake of a bigger picture — are just some of the concepts worked through here.
We also get Fincher’s standard fascination with police procedure, the grimness of the main storyline, and the filmmaker’s brilliant use of setting, light, and framing. Gone Girl looks amazing, once again utilizing a more cold and sterile backdrop to tell a tale rife with passion. Indeed, Amy and Nick are together because of a strong physical attraction. It’s all about sex, really. When that appears to be dissipating, a bond is broken. This sends one character into a silent inner rage that results in our actions here. In fact, as he has done with almost all his films, Fincher spells our motives only to reposition their purpose later, shedding new light where old ideas lie.
At its core, however, Gone Girl is a movie about uncovering who someone really is. For Nick, it’s discovering whether or not he’s a killer. We don’t see such a part to his personality, but like the investigation surrounding him, there’s more than enough circumstantial evidence to suggest he just might be. Amy is also under suspicion, simply because it seems bad things have followed her throughout the years. A former boyfriend (Scoot McNairy) was accused of raping her and the case cost him everything. Similarly, Desi tried to kill himself when he and Amy broke up.
Oddly enough, it’s only he who comes under scrutiny (although, it would be hard for the missing person experience such an examination) and this is where Gone Girl nails it. By spending all of our time focused on Nick, by going through every mudraking cliche we can, the fallacy of such an approach is revealed. This is particularly true of Missi Pyle’s Ellen Abbott, a Nancy Grace like pundit pitbull who doesn’t mind defaming someone just as long as the public is on her side. Teeth bared like a mother protecting her young, she’s the main reason Nick gets no peace.
And here’s the deal: he shouldn’t. He’s not innocent. He’s been sleepwalking through this failed marriage for far too long. He should be held accountable, just not for a murder. He’s a fraud as a husband. Indeed, Gone Girl is also fraught with arguments about commitment and insight. When questioned by the cops, Nick can’t name is wife’s blood type (which isn’t too unrealistic. I’ve been married almost 30 years and I have no clue what my wife’s is, let alone she knowing mine). While some of the other questions may be tricky (friends, free time), the idea that, occasionally, strangers pass themselves off as your standard marrieds gives this film a great deal of depth. Fincher then finds a laser like path through the pitfalls, ending up with something that’s both satisfying in its aesthetic and devastating in its determinations.
In fact, anyone outside of this amazing auteur might have fallen for Flynn’s pat pronouncements and simply let the story sell the tickets. But with Fincher, Gone Girl becomes fuller, richer. It’s more than just a mystery. It’s way beyond a man tried to defend himself against what the rest of society believes he is. Granted, cinematic scenarios like this often turn into a pointless pissing match, the guys given none of the doubt while the women work to win everyone over. But what is she was indeed the baddie? What if it was her doing to him what the world assumes such couples do? Gone Girl gives us the ramifications of that, and much, much more. That’s what makes it one of the best movies of the year.