GONE GIRL: An Anatomy of a Toxic Marriage

BY VINCENT ABBATECOLA

Think about how many wedded couples you’ve seen in film.  Think about how different and alike they were. Think about how many stayed together and how many separated.  Movies have shown viewers countless marital bonds go through scenarios of varying details, but I don’t think any of them can compare to the craziness of cinema’s latest onscreen matrimony.

Director David Fincher’s twisted thriller, “Gone Girl,” which is based on Gillian Flynn’s 2012 bestselling novel, descends into the barbed-wire anti-romance of the book’s two main characters and creates one of the best and most faithful page-to-screen adaptations of today.

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), live in Missouri and have been married for five years, but not all of them have been happy.  On the day of their fifth anniversary, Nick returns home from work. Amy is nowhere to be found.

With the help of some local authorities, Nick begins a frantic search for his wife. While under the mounting pressure of being seen as the prime suspect and trying to prove his innocence, Nick will also have to come to terms with what has caused his marriage to go horribly wrong.

While I still see Ben Affleck as a slightly better director than actor, his abilities on the latter have seemed to get better with each film he has appeared in over the last few years, and this performance stands as one of the best he’s done.  He expertly captures what the character of Nick is like in the book, everything from the cluelessness about his wife, to his discomfort in the face of media bombardment, to his shock at what he finds out about Amy as the film progresses.  Throughout the movie, Affleck is able to present his character’s transition from being camera-shy to knowing how to make public opinion work in his favor, and it’s fascinating to watch.

In the case of Rosamund Pike, there isn’t any bigger star-making performance this year than her wildly brilliant turn as Nick’s enigmatic wife.  It’s a role that takes you into the depths of Amy’s mind as she narrates certain scenes through her diary entries.  Although narration can be seen as taking the easy way out to tell a film’s story, it’s needed here because of its bigger significance to her character later on.

What’s remarkable about her performance is how even when we see her on screen with her voiceover narration, her facial expressions are perfectly in tune with her words.  The scenes with her narration in the film’s first half are actually some of the best in the movie because of how alluring her voice is and its ability to draw you into her mysterious psyche.  I can’t say much else about her character without giving away some of the film’s surprises, but I will say that it’s a better portrayal of Amy than I could have hoped for.

Inhabiting Nick and Amy’s downward-spiraling lives are some interesting supporting characters: Amy’s sketchy ex-boyfriend Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris); Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens), the dedicated detective leading the case; Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), the attorney who comes to Nick’s rescue; and Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin sister, Margo, a character who’s an example of what it’s like to be close to someone who’s caught in a media frenzy, and then beginning to get harassed by the press as well.

Gillian Flynn penned the screenplay, and she clearly had an idea of what to include in the film and what to leave out.  Sure, there are a few things missing, but she’s able to get around those absences in order to place an emphasis on what’s really important.  Everything that was essential in the book is there on the screen.

One of many things she does well with her script is the series of jumps between the perspectives of Nick and Amy, where we go back and forth from the events happening around Nick in the present and flashbacks that come from Amy’s diary entries.  It works every bit as well cinematically as it does in book form, and it’s intriguing to watch the two timelines eventually converge and ignite a startling chain of events.

Just like the novel, the big plot reveal comes when we’re only halfway through the movie, but Flynn manages to make it work in both cases because, unlike many other thrillers that have their twists and turns lead up to a reveal at the very end, this one manages to keep them coming even after we find out the main secret.

The book’s portrayal of the media also translates well into the movie with its depiction of performing for news cameras and showing media outlets jumping to conclusions, and this darkly humorous display gives a satirical jab at the matter in the film’s conclusion.

David Fincher is a consistent talent when it comes to making modern thrillers and was the perfect choice for this project.  Some of his other films, such as  “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “Zodiac” and “Seven,” all have a darkness to them, both photographically and story wise, that adds to the experience of watching something both disturbing and addictive.

Similar to his last two films, “TGWTDT” and “The Social Network,” Fincher collaborates with cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, editor Kirk Baxter and composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and “Gone Girl” benefits just as much as the two aforementioned films.  The grouping of Fincher with these four individuals helps in creating the unnerving atmosphere that this film demands.

Even if you’re one of those who have read the book, the way in which Fincher constructs some of the film’s biggest moments will still have you in shock in what you’re watching.  With the blending of Cronenweth’s dark cinematography, Baxter’s meticulous editing, and Reznor and Ross’ deeply unsettling music, the film’s most important scenes will undoubtedly satisfy both those who have and have not read the book.

With “Gone Girl,” David Fincher opens the door to a crumbling marriage and gives us the chance to sort through the wreckage.

Final grade: A