David Fincher’s thriller Gone Girl starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, works on many levels. First and foremost, however, it is a superb descent-into-hell period piece that teases the audience for the first hour, then gets brutal midway through.
For the first half, it’s a who-done-it. But Fincher takes a page from Alfred Hitchcock and makes a switch. He goes from keeping the audience guessing to revealing the facts. At this point, the stakes are raised. Can he keep the audience after the mystery is solved midway through the movie?
Hitchcock realized that if you revealed why something ghastly was happening, then you have the audience in the palm of your hand. Now, instead of wondering what’s going on, the audience is simply convinced that the gruesome behavior will not stop — after all, the villain has been revealed to be a very sick puppy. The tension shifts from who and why this is happening to who or what will stop the carnage.
In this case, you realize that Nick Dunne (played by Affleck) is in hell right away, but that hell seems safe enough. He and his wife Amy (played by Pike) have moved from New York City to Carthage, Missouri, to be with his dying mother after he looses his job as a journalist. But they are well off and all the worrying seems a little bit unnecessary.
After all, the childless couple live in an affluent neighborhood and Amy has bought her husband a business — a bar, which he runs with his sister. Amy is a confident beauty with a trust fund, who adores her husband. In turn, he is a handsome everyman with a loving family. Still, the marriage is unraveling.
It is not completely clear why the sense of doom is there, but her quiet ambitions clash with his quiet complacency. What sets in — mutual resentment — is hard to stop. And that’s when Amy disappears.
Two supportive roles keep the movie afloat. As the who-done-it concerning Amy’s vanishing act builds, Nick finds himself surrounded by two strong female characters. The first is his sister, Margo Dunne (played by Carrie Coon), whose love for Nick never wavers — even though it gets rocked a bit. The second is Detective Rhonda Boney (played by Kim Dickens), who is the tenacious voice of reason in the film.
It would be hard to fault Affleck’s performance. After all, he plays the role of the handsome everyman in film after film. But here, he is more passive than normal. He is convincing, but a touch flat on his feet, especially as the momentum builds and he is stuck with that aw-shucks smile and his swirling disappointments.
Still, that’s the point, isn’t it? Amy was a childhood celebrity, as she was the inspiration for a series of children’s books about a character named Amazing Amy. So her beauty, her status and her money are all a little bit larger than life and Nick Dunne is outmatched at every turn, until he figures out that he needs this.
In beautiful set pieces, it is revealed that Amy, to her mother, is more of an investment than a daughter. And that’s how we inherit creepy, folks.
The weak spot in the film is glaring: Neil Patrick Harris plays a exceptionally unconvincing ex-boyfriend who has made a pile of money and is in the position to reclaim Amy, the gorgeous prize from his high school days, who slipped through his fingers. He vows not to let that happen again (don’t they all?) now that she has run away from the husband who frightens her and is back in his arms. But he has little time to convince the audience that he is an innocent good guy and a glutton for punishment all at once. The role requires a good-looking Steve Buscemi type and Harris doesn’t deliver.
The film, however, aims to be much more than a skin-crawling who-done-it and that’s where it succeeds. But Fincher is in charge of how much to reveal and when and I would hate to get in his way.