On their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy Elliott Dunne (Rosamund Pike), the wife of writer-turned-bar owner Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) goes missing under suspicious circumstances. As the police investigate the disappearance, Nick commits some social blunders under media scrutiny, and Amy’s hidden diary points to a once-happy marriage that has since deteriorated into hostility and fear. Though suspicion falls on Nick, Amy’s ultimate fate may not be what it seems.
Directed by David Fincher and scripted by Gillian Flynn from her own best-seller, Gone Girl is both a solidly crafted piece of cinema and an enigmatic disappointment. Fincher is a master stylist, the movie is sharply written, and the cast exudes competence, yet the film never quite grips its audience to the fullest extent.
This failure to go for the jugular is born of both perspective and pacing. In the novel, readers are treated to dueling unreliable first-person narrators, and characters come to life in the discrepancies between the accounts. On film, we get traces of this – Amy gets a diary voiceover and the camera often follows Nick – but the amusingly sordid confessionals are largely lost. Further, while the film has plenty of tense moments (a shocking discovery toward the middle, a bloody act of desperation toward the end), that tension isn’t sustained through the second half. There is an episodic quality here that undermines what is at stake. We should feel the walls closing in on our protagonist, but we never fully get that sense of pending doom.
These flaws mar what is otherwise a very well-executed film. The cast is beyond reproach. Affleck, a real-life hate-magnet for many, seems born to play Nick, a character that embodies both sides of the laid-back nice guy/smug jerk dichotomy. Pike never fully gets across the bubbly naiveté of Amy’s diary narration, but she otherwise nails the character’s otherworldly cleverness and limitless determination. Among the supporting roles, Neil Patrick Harris is appropriately creepy as Amy’s obsessive ex, Kim Dickens delivers a healthy dose of skepticism as a dogged detective, and even the usually clownish Tyler Perry does quality work here as a media-savvy high profile lawyer. There is nary a weak link to be found.
In addition, although Fincher fails to impart the same spark here that made his past thrillers so gripping, Gone Girl is far from stylistically limp. There is a convincing sense of place as the film hops from New York to Missouri and beyond, and the few violent set pieces are visually arresting. Frequent collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross supply a score that is handily unsettling when it needs to be.
Ultimately, Gone Girl may have more resonance for those unacquainted with the source material. The novel’s twists – and twistedness – were punches to the reader’s gut, and the film, faithful as it is, offers familiarity to cushion the blows. Even with this diminished thrill, there is still a lot to really like here, just not enough to love.