Watching David Fincher’s deliriously tantalizing whodunit “Gone Girl,” a melodrama about a troubled married couple wrestling with compatibility issues, reminded me of the film classic “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946) co-starring Lana Turner and John Garfield. Turner and Garfield played illicit lovers who arranged the murder of Lana’s elderly husband so Garfield and she could indulge their lust. Eventually, each had second thoughts, and murder reared its ugly head. In “Gone Girl,” Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike experience somewhat similar woes. They are cast as a husband and wife who have lost their jobs and find their marriage unraveling with ugly ramifications. They embark on a nerve-racking odyssey through Hell with more outlandish things happening to them than you can possibly imagine—unless you’ve read the novel. “Gone Girl” constitutes another Hollywood adaptation of a runaway bestseller. Happily, for a change, director David Fincher hired bestselling author Gilliam Flynn to adapt her own work. Yes, I’ve perused Flynn’s masterpiece, and she has exercised good taste and judgment in modifying her compulsive page-turner for the screen. Basically, this Twentieth Century Fox film release is about as faithful as any movie can be to its source material. Minor changes occur, and some characters have been eliminated. Nevertheless, nothing substantial has been altered. In other words, if you loved the novel, you won’t hate what Fincher and Flynn have done with it. As much as I enjoyed “Gone Girl,” I’ll concede the novel is slightly better than the film. Principally, Flynn cannot translate to the screen the depths of Amy’s subversive thoughts. Meantime, Fincher has done an admirable job of orchestrating the ‘he said; she said’ shenanigans of husband and wife. Mind you, “Gone Girl” qualifies as more than just a spine-tingling exercise in suspense and tension where the authorities believe the husband is the prime suspect in his wife’s disappearance. This movie succeeds on multiple levels as Fincher and Flynn skewer gender politics, scandal-mongering television news personalities, marriage dynamics, and essentially society in general.
Nick (Ben Affleck of “Argo”) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike of “Die Another Day”) are a sophisticated New York couple who lost their jobs as a result of the recession. When his mother is diagnosed with cancer, Nick persuades Amy to forsake her elegant brownstone in New York City, and they relocate to his North Carthage, Missouri, hometown. Amy buys Nick a tavern called ‘The Bar’ with her trust fund to keep him busy, and Nick’s twin sister Margo Dunne (Broadway actress Carrie Coon) helps manage it. Meantime, Nick and Amy’s marriage steadily erodes as trust issues and power dynamics exert a toll on it. A life-long city dweller, Amy feels miserably out of place in a small town in the middle of Heartland America with too little to occupy her imagination. She doesn’t adapt as well to this dire change of scenery as her husband. As the morning of their fifth anniversary dawns, Nick leaves Amy at home and cruises into town to check up on his sister at the bar. No sooner has Nick gotten there and swapped shots with Margo than a neighbor calls Nick and informs him that his front door is standing mysteriously wide open. Rushing home, Nick finds pieces of furniture either smashed or overturned in the living room. Amy is nowhere in sight. Nick alerts the authorities. North Carthage Police Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickins of TV’s “Lost”) and Officer Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit of “Almost Famous”) comb the premises and collect clues. Later, the North Carthage crime scene crew uncovers evidence of a huge blood puddle in the kitchen that had been sloppily mopped up. Repeatedly, Nick swears his innocence, but things spiral hopelessly out of control. He learns from the police that Amy was pregnant. Ultimately, in an act of sheer desperation, Nick hires celebrity lawyer, Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry of “Alex Cross”), to defend him. Worst, the jealous college girl with whom Nick was having an affair exposes their adultery on prime-time television. Although the detectives have amassed an abundance of evidence implicating Nick, Boney and Gilpin have no luck finding Amy’s body.
You could watch “Gone Girl” a dozen times and come away with something memorable each time. Fincher has fashioned a tense thriller just as immaculate and flawless as his best movies, including “Fight Club,” “The Game,” “The Social Network,” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Affleck is at the top of his game as the gullible husband with something to conceal, while Pike deserves an Oscar for the many faces that she forges as Nick’s long, lost Amy. Neal Patrick Harris displays his chameleon ability to play a cross-section of characters. He emerges as one of Amy’s warped lovers who once stalked her. Clocking in at virtually two hours and half, “Gone Girl” defies expectations—unless you’re conversant with the novel. Just when you think you’ve got everything figured out, Fincher and Flynn twist another loop into their Gordian knot of a narrative. The effect is similar to being spun around about every half-hour and gaping at the experience. Beware, “Gone Girl” boasts a blood-soaked murder scene that is rather graphic, but this thriller remains extremely literate. Anybody who abhors HLN ‘victim’s rights’ advocate Nancy Grace is going to appreciate the pompous character of Ellen Abbott who goes after Nick’s scalp after Amy vanishes. Tyler Perry plays it straight as Nick’s high-profile attorney Tanner Bolt who coaches him throughout the ordeal. In one scene, Tanner prepares his client for an important television interview. Each time Nick answers a question with either an inappropriate tone or expression, Tanner bombards him with jelly beans. Anybody who has ever complained about Ben Affleck’s smug pretty boy persona will love this scene. As much as I would love to divulge some of the juicier scenes in “Gone Girl,” I cannot without spoiling the outcome. If you love husband and wife murder movies or murder melodramas altogether, “Gone Girl” shouldn’t disappoint you.


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