If there’s one key flaw in David Fincher’s precise, elegant, wicked Gone Girl, it’s that it is just so precise and elegant that sometimes the wickedness struggles to come through. Likewise, Rosamund Pike’s Amy Dunne, the perfect, rich, beautiful wife, is so icy-gorgeous, so regal and poised, her voiceovers spoken in such flat affect, that it’s hard to imagine her ever having any fun.
But fun was had, she tells us, in the early years of her marriage to once and maybe future writer Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck, using all his bland semi-charms quite excellently). There was fun in the years before the recession and parental illness forced the Dunnes to move from Amy’s enviable Brooklyn pad to an oversized cookie-cutter house in Missouri, closer to Nick’s ailing mother.
By the time we meet Nick, sitting at the bar he owns with his sister on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, all is hardly right in the fictional town of North Carthage. At home, Nick finds what looks like a crime scene. No Amy. The cops — led by the consistently great Kim Dickens as Rhonda Boney — are concerned, and then suspicious. Nick can’t keep a sad face, always smiling at the wrong time, and his answers to their questions are almost as flat as Amy’s voiceovers. What the hell is wrong with these people?
Gone Girl has been described as a story about how you can never really know what’s going on in someone else’s head, especially in a marriage. Fincher, with his toxic yellow light, half-lit rooms, beige walls and gleeful portrayal of cable news as the court of public opinion, emphasizes another aspect: the damage done by letting yourself be shaped by other people’s expectations and opinions. Women are always picking at me, Nick whines. Women are always being who their boyfriends or husbands want them to be, Amy sneers. And everybody’s passing the buck when it comes to the result.
Fincher teases out every crucial moment in Gone Girl’s plot, deliciously underlining the absurdities, leaving the voices of reason and reality in the hands of the secondary characters (including Tyler Perry as Nick’s warm but intensely efficient attorney). If you’ve read the book, you’ll see the nasty humor, the biting indictment of impossible cultural expectations; if you haven’t, you may see instead a super-serious David Fincher film in which every hair and every clue is in its exact right place.
Film makes the story meta, turning it into the tabloid tale that exists within Flynn’s novel. It’s grotesque and glorious, smart and shallow. As it ought to be.