By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The novel was a page turner, the movie is a barn burner.
The film version of Gone Girl, the 2012 best-seller by Gillian Flynn, is a gripping, cynical, perverse, sometimes intoxicating look at marriage as a Punch-and-Judy Show.
But the question is, who’s punching whom?
Amy Elliott-Dunne, played by Rosamund Pike, disappears on the day of her fifth wedding anniversary.
As the days go by, and the police and the media probe, and she just doesn’t turn up, her husband, Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, now a bar co-owner, looks more and more like a prime suspect.
We get this married couple’s backstory of wedded bliss turning into a wedded blitz through flashbacks, from their ardent courtship and their New York City writing careers to their recession-era layoffs and money troubles and relocation from a Brooklyn brownstone to a Missouri mess in the fictional town of North Carthage, which Amy, an avid New Yorker, never really takes to.
Neither husband nor wife could really be described as likable. Maybe just the opposite.
What world-class director David Fincher (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac, The Social Network, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button –- the last two earning him Oscar nominations as best director) has gone and done is worked from a screenplay by author Flynn that condenses the narrative but pretty much preserves it, telling the story from both perspectives just as the novel did: we get two unreliable narrators for the price of one.
Fincher has also embraced the cynicism and dread embedded in Flynn’s premise, making the director and screenwriter, as opposed to the husband and wife under the microscope, seem a very good match.
As dread-filled satires of modern marriage go, this one (which begs the question, “just how well do you think you know your spouse?”) is a doozy.
Furthermore, as insinuating satires of our contemporary media culture go, this one (which begs the question, “what kind of scandal gets your attention on TV news?”) is also a doozy.
And, perhaps most satisfyingly for the audience, as a deliverer of secrets and lies and twists and reversals and implausibilities and surprises, none of which will be further alluded to here, this movie is also a doozy.
As for the two figures atop the wedding cake whom we would seem to be getting to know up close and personal, well, there’s more to them than meets the eye.
Or is it less?
Not only does Fincher get commanding and compelling performances by leads Pike and Affleck, but he scares up invaluable supporting turns from Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin sister, Kim Dickens as the lead detective on the case, Tyler Perry as Nick’s high-profile attorney, and Neil Patrick Harris as a persistent suitor of Amy’s.
Affleck and Pike show us the performance aspect of matrimony as only skilled actors can do, he by underplaying and letting us recall his particular career arc and making of that what we will, she in the more emotionally demanding role by showing us aspects of her persona we’ve never seen before.
Will the level of cracked absurdity and over-the-top brutality in the last reel be a bit much even for viewers happy to be along for the ride? Maybe. But by then we’re long since, well… married to the proceedings.
So we’ll have and hold from this day forward 3 stars out of 4. This down-and-dirty, chilly and elegant missing-wife thriller holds us in its sway as it poses the mischievously misanthropic and malicious marital question, “What have we done to each other?”