“Gone Girl” thrills in what-if ways

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First Posted: 10/6/2014

David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” is about how there is no such thing as the absolute truth, but the truth as it’s presented to us. The conviction of the storyteller matters more than anything. The movie chills us because not only does its story remain unresolved, we leave the theater and take that uncertainty with us.

Based on Gillian Flynn’s wildly popular novel, “Gone Girl” presents Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike, “Jack Reacher”), transplanted New Yorkers who now live in his hometown, a once-prosperous Missouri suburb. It’s another bland day interrupted with a ripple of significance: the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary.

Nick is at his bar when he’s called home; the cat has gotten outside. He notices that the front door is open. He enters to find the living room table smashed. The ottoman is overturned. Amy is nowhere to be found. Nick, who is pretty placid given the circumstances, calls the police. Days pass. Amy, blonde and beautiful and the inspiration behind her parents’ string of children’s books, gets painted as a saint. Nick’s smug grin and lack of contriteness does him no favors. And it gets worse as Amy’s anniversary hunt—her annual present to her husband—unearths clues that paint Nick as a murderer, a claim he denies to a decreasing circle of allies.

Flynn, adapting her own novel, and Fincher skillfully transition between different points of view—the story is told from Amy and Nick’s perspectives—and periods of time. The story zooms along, just like Flynn’s deliciously wicked and juicy book.

In the book, Flynn loved to punch you in the face with her revelations. Fincher’s approach doesn’t have that same zest. Per his resume (“Seven,” “The Social Network”), it’s dark and brittle. The shadowy camerawork and leisurely pacing—the film is two and a half hours long—allows us to see two people getting to know each other. The real, jagged versions of each other, not the ones presented at family get-togethers.

And this is where the leads matter. Pike plays Amy as three people: the ingénue, the possible conniver, and the polished PR expert when she finally gets the spotlight. The beauty of Pike’s performance is that we never know where she’s coming from. Regardless of circumstance, she’s a beautiful robot with dinner China skin and lacquered ponytail. Amy is too unflappable to be real, and that could be Nick’s downfall.

Affleck’s usefulness is that he still possesses the Kennedy clan handsomeness that summons contempt. He looks like doors always open for him, so why should Nick have to summon sadness? Why should he have to try harder? The actor’s lack of charisma is actually an asset, because we never sympathize with Nick. There’s a sense that he’s earned his stay in purgatory, even if he hasn’t.

We don’t know whom to root for, which is Fincher and Flynn’s great triumph. Nick and Amy, at the end of this macabre, conniving affair, represent chilling real life possibilities. “Gone Girl” is so unsettling because Fincher keeps reminding us how we can never know the people we love. Feelings get buried deeper and deeper as the years pass. “Gone Girl” shows what happens when they get revived and assemble into a monster that only one person can control.