On his fifth anniversary, Nick is miserable. He wanders down to the small-town Missouri bar he and his twin sister keep up and knocks back a bourbon while languidly twisting the wheel on the game of Life, wondering how he managed to botch a marriage to the girl of his dreams. Then he returns home to find a real scene: an open front door, broken glass in the living room, flecks of blood around the house, no sign of his wife. Thus begins two hours of “Gone Girl” leading you by the nose, insisting you guess at the big questions: Where did Amy (Rosamund Pike) go? Was she kidnapped, killed? Is Nick (Ben Affleck) to blame?
It’s a simple setup, as far as it goes, but Gillian Flynn’s script, off her own 2012 novel, makes for a pleasing little mouse trap of a suspense movie. Observers have thrown around the word “twist” to describe the action, overeagerly, as if sharp plotting itself is but a gimmick. More properly, there’s one revelation about a character that tilts the story in a way that’s consistent within the world that already had been built.
It’s not a film of twists so much as one of atmosphere and pace, the former built in large part on the eerie score by Trent Reznor, the latter owing to director David Fincher, whose seamy criminal pictures are a standard in the genre. Right now there’s a film studies master’s student somewhere is sketching out a thesis on the distant-cousin similarities in violence and identity and consumerism between “Gone Girl” and Fincher’s 1999 masterwork of modern noir, “Fight Club.” Or maybe you should get started on it, if you’re in a film program and you haven’t chosen a thesis. It’s October already, you know.
For “Gone Girl” to work, you must utterly believe the marriage at the center, and it’s here that the lead performances carry the film. Affleck’s Nick is just boorish enough, just bored enough, to tumble into this calamity without overheating. When the in-laws descend into the picture (a pair of pucker-tight New Yorkers, they made their fortune by starring Amy in a series of popular children’s books) and his sudden celebrity makes him a target of scorn and adoration, Nick reacts in exactly the way we’d expect: He screws up the optics, repeatedly.
Some of the smartest bits in “Gone Girl” track the cable news storm that follows the disappearance of this comely, semi-famous blonde; rather than a vehicle for merely filling in exposition, the events play out on television in a way that feels smart and natural. The talking heads sharpen the pitchforks and soak the torches in kerosene, and the mob is too happy to follow. (Tyler Perry as a TV-ready lawyer might be the highlight of a decidedly strong cast.)
Pike isn’t the star Affleck is, yet, but she’s easily his match as a performer. Not that she’s been hurting for work; she has something like 20 feature credits since 2007. And yet — where has this woman been hiding? She’s a force in “Gone Girl,” enchanting in flashbacks. To say more would be to edge toward spoiler territory, and would dampen the inky fun that “Gone Girl” brings.
Pike and Affleck both convey the tensions of marriage, which, to “Gone Girl,” include a need to be an array of people even within the relationship. Marriage, it seems to say, will change a person and will change a couple in ways only they can come to fully appreciate. That’s either a dark thought or an uplifting one, depending on the couple.
“Gone Girl” suggests the crimes we commit against one another always include the victim as accomplice. If that’s a big, disturbing thought for a date night, “Gone Girl” will make it worth your $12.50.