I haven’t read Gillian Flynn’s enormously successful novel, but since she wrote the screenplay for director David Fincher’s adaption, it’s probably fair to say that she’s happy with the results. The professional critics certainly are; it’s rare that the pre-release “buzz” on what turns out to be a donut-shaped murder mystery elicits such excitement. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the film stars a white-hot actor (Ben Affleck) or that its director’s pedigree includes such highly-acclaimed films as Fight Club, Zodiac, and The Social Network. That said, what distinguishes this thriller from others of its ilk?
Shrewd casting for one thing; Affleck plays Nick Dunn, an unemployed writer whose surface charm barely disguises pendulum-like swings from narcissistic self-regard to petulant refusal to accept the consequences of his role in the decline of his 5-yr. old marriage to Amy (Rosamund Pike) the seemingly flawless New Yorker heiress who marries and then supports Nick through hard times, familial illness and relocation. When Amy vanishes without a trace one morning in the late summer, Nick’s barely able to register much about her for the police who quickly move to the conclusion that a crime has been committed.
When their investigation begins to unearth a string of suspicious details about Nick, initial sympathy for him turns to increasingly vocal suspicion that he’s behind Amy’s disappearance. Is this feckless cad really something much more dangerous?
It’s at this point in the 2&1/2 running time of Gone Girl that the plot spurts off in another direction, which forces audiences to reexamine the characters of its two principals. This 180-degree twist is expertly managed and leads to a conclusion that simultaneously astounds and negates nearly everything that’s come before it so that what began as a straightforward narrative appears rather like an apocryphal commentary on the perils of marital relationships.
As Fincher demonstrated so effectively in Zodiac, he knows how to employ a host of visual aids to depict obsessive behavior and he does so here, presenting a visual Rorschach test of Nick’s credibility before turning the spotlight on his apparently much-abused wife. The result is a story line slickly delivered, but lacking much in the way of substance.
The Verdict? Slick and anything but conventional - - yet not nearly as satisfying as the director’s earlier efforts.
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