Don’t let the routine premise of “Gone Girl” fool you. Though there have been plenty of thrillers about husbands and wives, “Gone Girl” isn’t really like any of them, blazing off into new territory with the dark satirical vision of director David Fincher and the cynical wit of novelist Gillian Flynn.
Here is a pitch black comedy disguised as a topsy-turvy thrill-ride, making for an intense and often terrifically funny film, one brimming over with social commentary related to the era of the media circus. Complete with convincing performances from both Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck, “Gone Girl” is an entertaining experience with enough twists and turns to go around but the sense not to solely rely on them.
When Nick Dunne (Affleck) comes home to find his wife missing and his living room smashed up, he stumbles around like he’s in daze, his life instantly changed. But instead of reaching for the tissue box and crying his way to perceived innocence, Dunne simply seems to be bummed to be the centerpiece for the process he knows is coming.
Is he saddened that his wife of five years has disappeared seemingly into thin air? Well, it’s difficult to say, but the experience of answering questions from detectives and facing cameras definitely seems to be an annoyance, at the very least. With Nick stripped of the expected emotions of grief and fear, it isn’t hard for lead detective Rhonda (Kim Dickens) to think that there is something a bit off.
Played with a cool sense of detachment by Affleck, Nick is crucial as the husband who seems both incredibly forthright and unstirred by his wife’s sudden disappearance. It doesn’t appear to be a combination that adds up in his favor, yet the mystery builds around his involvement as we see the layers of the case unfold.
While Rhonda and her junior partner Jim (Patrick Fugit) circle around evidence, refreshingly careful in not jumping to conclusions, Nick braces for the worst. Along with his helpful twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon), Nick recognizes that the disappearance of his wife isn’t just a looming tragedy; now it’s a television show, and he’s suddenly been thrust into a lead role against his will.
Nick doesn’t seem to be hiding anything, but he also needs Margo’s help creating a public persona that is believably saddened by the recent events. When Nick and his in-laws hold a press conference, everyone seems to know that it’s only a matter of time before the blame eventually tilts in his direction.
But what could have been a by-the-numbers thriller has enough tricks up its sleeve to end up anything but. As the evidence slowly unfolds and Nick gets deeper and deeper into the limelight, the story becomes as much about Nick’s public perception as anything else. Every talking head on cable news already seems to have a snapshot opinion of what happened – with or without the facts – and Nick’s life is plunged into a chaos of cameras and media statements.
Now as a pseudo-celebrity, the bar Nick owns is suddenly packed and beautiful women pop up at random to take selfies with him, itching to share some of his 15 minutes of fame. At one point, as Nick attempts to sway public opinion with an emotional speech at a vigil, two women look on and can’t decide whether he’s hot or creepy – the type of back-and-forth opinion the swirling media relies upon. Instead of a dreary thriller that’s too dramatic for its own good, Fincher and Flynn fill the story with comic details that capture the humor underlining even the most intense and serious of situations.
As the movie builds, one of the strengths also becomes the myriad of little side roles, each adding to the satirical underbelly of a society with an insatiable appetite for scandal. There’s the quietly appalling parents, who never miss a chance to promote their business interests in the face of a tragedy; the charming lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), who simply can’t help himself from enjoying the intrigue of the scandal from the inside; and the array of onlookers gawking at the TV coverage, each with a quick opinion of Nick without any access to real information.
With the omnipresence of video and social media, the public spotlight has never burned brighter and “Gone Girl” expertly builds the backdrop for the proverbial media bonanza, pushing Nick to his breaking point as he deals with the utter absurdity of it all.
Even with a nuanced performance from Affleck, however, the star is undoubtedly Rosamund Pike, who plays Affleck’s sweet-as-pie wife Amy with the type of flair that dares you to believe her sincerity.
In a series of dream-like flashbacks purposely airbrushed by memory, her enigmatic personality slowly reveals itself in a way that is both exciting and thought-provoking, leaving us with a counterpoint to Nick that takes the movie well beyond typical thriller territory. As the story deepens and the tale of Nick and Amy plays out, “Gone Girl” becomes a shocking and refreshing rehashing of a familiar genre that is easy to get pulled into.
In the tradition of dark comedy-thrillers like “Fargo,” “Gone Girl” is the type of movie that has too much to say about the modern condition to pigeon-hole itself by genre limitations. David Fincher’s movies have never been for those with weak stomachs, and “Gone Girl” follows suit by refusing to sugarcoat the experience.
Like he did with “Seven” and “Zodiac,” Fincher delves deeply into the shadows and delivers an ice cold vision that is perfect for adult audiences tired of the simplistic thrillers that usually pour through the multiplex. By cutting straight to the heart of the reality TV generation, “Gone Girl” ultimately points out just how deep the divide between public and private actually is and why truth can sometimes be the last thing the media machine is actually interested in.