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Gone Girl

David Fincher’s two best movies, Seven and Zodiac, share more than just serial killers. They tell stories designed to build anxiety in the viewer, while never providing the expected cathartic release. Gone Girl, his adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel, fits perfectly in that tradition. Ben Affleck stars as Nick Dunne, a onetime journalist who moved with his beautiful wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) to his hometown in Missouri after he lost his writing gig in New York and his mother was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer. The couple survive financially thanks to a trust fund set up by Amy’s parents (they got rich writing a successful series of children’s books based on an idealized version of Amy). But when the recession hits, her parents take back a large chunk of the money, which puts Nick and Amy in serious financial straits and tears apart their marriage. On the day of their fifth anniversary, Nick comes home from a visit to the bar he co-owns with his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon) to find his wife missing amidst signs of a home invasion. A pair of detectives soon arrive on the scene, and as their investigation continues, the evidence begins to suggest that Nick may be a killer. As the case gains national notoriety, Nick must fight a PR battle as well as keep a few unpleasant secrets hidden from the authorities. The plot of Gone Girl sounds like standard-issue Alfred Hitchcock material: A man is accused, maybe falsely, of a horrible crime. Fincher certainly seizes on opportunities to inject some perverse comedy that would have made Hitch proud -- pay attention to the board-game motif he uses early on. However, as the twisty story plays out, he subtly shifts gears so that Gone Girl clearly becomes a portrait of a disturbingly unhinged couple, and not a more conventional battle-of-the-sexes tale featuring a controlling wife and a selfish husband. That approach makes sense, because Flynn’s novel is a deviant fun-house mirror, grossly distorting flaws many readers will recognize in themselves. For all of its pulpy plot twists, it gets at a core fear about marriage that resonates with both men and women. Fincher has adapted the book faithfully, thanks in part to a script written by Flynn, capturing what made it so popular and translating it to the silver screen. This was no easy task, as the story ends not in a hail of bullets or an overheated screaming match, but on a more muted, if psychologically terrifying, note. Casting Ben Affleck as Nick was a stroke of genius on Fincher’s part. He’s an actor who can play both smug and smart well, and he’s unafraid of portraying the worst elements of the character. Additionally, the baggage audiences might have regarding him -- remembering how his career ground to a halt during his days as a tabloid fixture with Jennifer Lopez -- informs how Nick’s own life spirals out of control as the court of public opinion cast their verdict. The whole cast are flawless -- even Tyler Perry turns in his first solid performance as Nick’s high-powered lawyer -- but the movie belongs to Rosamund Pike. Amy is, to put it mildly, complicated. The opening voice-over of the film has Nick admitting that he has no idea what’s going on in her head, and the entire picture is about him finding out. Pike keeps him and us off-balance by understanding that the core of this woman is that she is always pretending. Amy, who has a degree in psychology, is one of the most manipulative characters in movie history -- exactly the kind of meaty role that women in Hollywood are rarely offered. Pike grounds the role in a logical place, even as the events that unfold become more and more outrageous. As an actress, she embodies everything that the filmmakers are trying to do, from the over-the-top thriller aspects to the deep-rooted evocations of a troubled marriage. All the while, she’s both bewitching in the scenes that show Nick and Amy falling in love and frightening in the sequences that reveal the depths of her mental imbalance. David Fincher has always been a meticulous filmmaker, and it’s tempting to think he saw elements of himself in Amy’s uber-controlling nature. He’s also, like Amy, unwilling to compromise. He retains Flynn’s tricky plot structure, and emphatically embraces the book’s uncinematic final act. Fincher proves himself to be the ideal director to turn this intricately plotted, misanthropic best-seller into a disturbing, yet undeniably entertaining movie.