It’s nearly impossible to discuss this film without veering into spoiler territory so – reluctantly – I’m going to have to put up a precautionary *SPOILER WARNING* even though I’ll try and be as oblique as possible.
When Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home to find his home in disarray and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing, he fears the worst. As the media circus starts to build and the police investigation progresses, it becomes apparent that there was far more than met the eye to their seemingly happy marriage. As the circumstantial evidence against him mounts and public perception turns from semi-narcissistic sympathy to baying mob, it seems that Nick may have killed his wife and tried to cover it up. After all, that’s what Amy’s recently discovered diary seems to imply.
Sometimes there’s just a perfect celestial alignment between director and material. “Gone Girl” fits David Fincher so exactly, it could have been written with him in mind. It’s curious then, that he seems less engaged with the material than his previous work. Not to say he doesn’t deliver in style, but his focus clearly isn’t on the never-less-than-compelling mystery of Amy’s disappearance. Instead, Fincher uses the twists and turns of the extraordinary murder mystery to point an angry and condemning finger at celebrity culture and the growing phenomenon of trial by media. While the novel’s main narrative threads make it more or less unscathed to the screen, many of the peripheral characters are scaled back and the baying talk show hosts and news anchors are brought to the fore in all of their opportunistic, populist glory. Characters such as Nick and Amy’s parents are pushed to the background but despite this pared down focus, the film still runs to a hefty, and at times, unnecessary two and a half hours.
Of the two main leads, Ben Affleck is very good in what is a demanding yet curiously unrewarding role because Nick is somewhat numb and detached, tending not to emote which suits Affleck’s often slightly sluggish delivery. Rosamund Pike, on the other hand, runs her full range from flat out awful to actually pretty good. For the first forty-five minutes of the film, she seems to be struggling with the accent and is terribly, terribly wooden. Granted, this may be a stylistic choice as she bursts to emotive life once the film transitions to its twistedly literal take on ‘Murder, She Wrote’ but she’s so uncomfortable in the early scenes that it’s distracting. Speaking of distractions, Tyler Perry’s swaggering appearance as celebrity lawyer Tanner Bolt, while adhering to the theme of the celebrity corruption of justice – even lawyers are celebrities and media managers now – is showy and oddly tongue in cheek: out of place in Fincher’s darker, edgier world. Of the rest of the cast, Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin sister Margo and Kim Dickens as Detective Boney are consistently watchable, becoming pillars of relatable and dependable integrity as the sands shift around the other characters and their motives.
The film’s structure skilfully maintains the mystery, with occasional moments of shocking violence puncturing the tension and calm, supported by the superb score from frequent Fincher collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. There’s a fair amount of profanity and nudity too (yes, you do catch a glimpse of Batman’s boy wonder) and the story is suitably dark and ambiguous. But there’s something missing here that’s present in abundance in Fincher’s previous works. In terms of revelations and game-changing plot twists, “Gone Girl” has a lot in common with “Fight Club” but unlike “Fight Club”, I’m not sure this movie will reward repeated viewings. In fact, once it’s revealed all its surprises, there’s not much else it has to offer. I hadn’t read the book and so went into the film ripe to be shocked and delighted by the second act curveball but if you’ve read the book, I’m not convinced there’s much here for you and you might be better off spending your hard-earned ticket money on something else.