Movie Review: Ben Affleck's Gone Girl Lives Up to the Buzz, and Then Some
09/23/2014 AT 03:45 PM EDT
No matter where you pick it up to examine it, you can expect to be bitten.
In these spoiler-conscious days, a writer is hard put to know how much can be said about Gone Girl, which is perhaps the ultimate example of the oxymoronic school of "Don’t tell me! Don’t tell me!" storytelling. The safest bet is to see the movie soon. (It's the first-night selection of the New York Film Festival on Sept. 26, then opens nationally Oct. 3.)
Gone Girl stars Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as a Manhattan couple, Nick and Amy Dunne, both writers, who move to his native Missouri in part because their jobs have evaporated in a bad economy.
Conditions are scarcely better in his hometown, where the mall has closed and become the habitat of drug addicts, the unemployed and the lost, and where Nick and Amy live in a development of attractive – if slightly too large – houses, many of them unsold and vacant.
If more of them were occupied, if the Dunnes had more neighbors, perhaps Amy might not go missing from their house in broad daylight while Nick is at the bar he runs with his twin sister, Margo, nicknamed Go (Carrie Coon).
Everything points to Nick, who comes across as a suspect both from circumstantial evidence and the fact that, even though he possesses the square jaw, cleft chin, thick hair and thin, clenched mouth of Ben Affleck, the news media find him instinctively unsympathetic.
Or perhaps that's because he is Ben Affleck: He's possibly the most conventionally handsome leading man in Hollywood today, but Affleck doesn't automatically win an audience's trust or even liking. His acting has the seemingly effortless confidence of a born star, but not the charisma.
This, actually, makes him perfect for Gone Girl.
We've now reached the end, more or less, of what plot can be discussed without ruining the astounding twists that made the book such a hit.
So I will simply make a couple of basic points:
1. The twists are all there, and they work.
The movie, which is quite faithful to the original, is terrific entertainment whether or not you've read the novel. Fincher, working with a screenplay credited to Flynn, seamlessly finesses the many transitions of viewpoint that she exploits with an ingenuity so radical the book might seem unfilmable.
Fincher doesn't trumpet these transitions, and he doesn't emphasize them. They just happen. You experience them the same way the wheels of your car absorb the impact of a slight disruption in the gradient on a freshly paved highway. A satisfyingly smooth “fwump”.
2. It's better than the book.
This adaptation has thrown out a lot of unessential plot detail, tightened up the story and spared us a lot of workmanlike prose purpled up with patches of regret and nostalgia for the glamour of young, romantic, writerly Manhattan. (The book sometimes felt like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s idea for an episode of How I Met Your Mother.)
This leaves the camera to deliver images and sequences that are more much potently mysterious, strange and menacing.
A search for the missing Amy at that abandoned mall has been telescoped into a brief and eerie scene in which police detectives descend a non-functioning escalator into a deep, green-shadowed hall that looks like one of the derelict lairs from an Alien movie.
Fincher has also included one moment of intense, shocking violence shot and edited with bravura fluidity.
It will be the most talked-about scene in what could be the year's most talked-about movie.
Fincher, who in movies like Zodiac and even The Social Network has established himself as something of a master at creating a singular atmosphere of expansive, corrosive chill, has pushed past the book's page-turning suspense and zeroed in on its true nagging power: This is less a thriller than a psychosexual horror story.
But now, we've once again come up against the spoiler force field.
Gone Girl, fundamentally, is about the thin line behind love and hate, except that here both those emotions are accentuated to the point of psychosis and then kicked further into a realm so bitter and excruciatingly cruel that the movie is, occasionally, barbarously funny.
It's also about how the ability to love and to be loved are very different, and how our huge networks of electronic and digital media nonetheless confuse and conflate these two into a sort of marriage from hell.
The movie illustrates this with a very funny parody of Nancy Grace.
Gone Girl ranks with those other classics of malice, Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct. Only possibly better.