After watching David Fincher's Gone Girl, you may want to meet the woman that messed the director up.
Fincher's cynical, coal-hearted autopsy of marriage and reality-TV culture, based on Gillian Flynn's bestseller, is a manipulative, black comedy mystery about the versions of ourselves we put out there in the name of love and togetherness, only to have them give way to our truer, deeper selves when the romance we so eagerly sought becomes the thing we're willing to lie, cheat and kill to free ourselves from.
Make no mistake: This is more than just a polished adaptation of popular fiction. It's a movie that demands at least one repeat viewing as it inches its way up the list of "Best of the Year."
Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a struggling New York writer who finds more success with party pick-up lines than he does with getting his works published. His charming banter quickly tractor beams in the alluring Amy (Rosamund Pike, delivering career-best work), the daughter of a successful author who made millions writing books based on his little girl, albeit the more ideal and "likable" version of her. ("Daddy issues" are just one of many emotional scabs Amy can't stop picking.)
Their relationship and eventual marriage -- the good and especially the bad -- unfolds parallel to Amy's disappearance, all while Amy narrates the tale using entries from her diary which conveniently frames Nick as her potential murderer.
Local PD and national media are put in a frenzy, as Nick's near-perfect husband persona gradually unravels once his infidelity becomes the stuff of Nancy Grace-like TV specials. Soon, the evidence points to foul play, and Nick becomes his own ticking clock -- he must find out what happened to his wife before the media and the police put him in prison, which, as the movie unfolds, seems like a vacation spot compared to the marriage he has been trapped in.
To say anything more about plot specifics would deny one the sadistic thrill of watching them first-hand. Fincher, working off Flynn's screenplay based on her own novel, raises his already volatile brand of cynicism to new levels, finding the perfect outlet to convey his black-on-black sense of humor and his opinions about relationships and modern media culture. A pair of scenes late in the film's two-and-half-hour running time -- a confrontation between Nick and the film's spot-on take on Nancy Grace, and later an angry fight with Amy -- seem like Fincher is using the characters as ciphers to deliver what feels like blog post rants about the film's themes. These moments achieve an almost breaking-the-fourth-wall quality, with the director's intense insight and personality having as strong a presence in the film as those of his lead actors.
While Fincher's direction and brisk pacing steal the show -- the jarring staccato rhythm of the opening titles feel like rabbit punches to the eyes -- Affleck comes in a close second. He gives his best leading man performance to date, alternating between passive victim and unlikely hero. He is the glue that holds the film's jagged narrative together, even when the third act goes to some very melodramatic -- but incredibly effective -- places.
Pike's Amy is a twisted, beautiful, scary mess; the by-product of not being hugged enough and getting her way too much. Pike infects every scene with a slow-burn menace -- she's a velvet switchblade, whose unreliable narration ends up putting her in a villain-y light while also making her one of the big screen's most sympathetic psychos.
The supporting cast is scary good, as well, especially Tyler Perry as Nick's high-profile lawyer who makes a living off the lives of spouses in trouble, in a world eager to make heroes and villains out of husbands and wives.
Which is exactly what Gone Girl wants you to do -- it wants you to choose sides so it can smirk at you for thinking that marriage, that love, can be so easily categorized. Nick and Amy are their own worst enemies, and the movie's charm comes with how it both rewards and punishes you for rooting for them as their circumstances change. There is no right or wrong here, Nick and Amy are equally to blame for how dire and bloody (good god, the blood!) their relationship becomes. And yet, we can't help but want Nick to escape the frame Amy's put him in, despite the fact that his actions helped hammer in the nails.
Gone Girl is Fincher's most focused film since Zodiac, and his most mainstream entertainment since Seven. It puts the messiness of human relationships and all the things he wants to say about them on a dart board and throws scalpels at them, hitting bullseye every time.
The end result is an often uncomfortable, always tense and never boring film that, among other successes, achieves that which few films this year have done: Become something worth talking about long after the credits roll.