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Gone Girl

Psycho-thriller from director David Fincher

Oct. 7, 2014
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Looking buff but bemused, Nick (Ben Affleck) wonders who let the cat out and why the front door to his McMansion is slightly ajar. Inside, he finds a glass coffee table shattered and his wife, who should be home, gone. Nick is sensible: He calls the police, innocent of the world of trouble that will soon envelope him. Or maybe not innocent—not entirely.

Gone Girl is the latest journey into malicious madness from director David Fincher, who established an interest in the twisted, unlit paths of the psyche with films such as Se7en and Zodiac. Gone Girl was written for the screen by novelist Gillian Flynn from her bestselling mystery thriller. The story has more turns than the interstate system; some of them can be spotted, but since many, especially in the first two-thirds of this long, two-and-a-half-hour film emerge from blind spots, plot description becomes one expansive spoiler.

Suffice to say, Nick’s five-year marriage with Amy (Rosamund Pike) has slipped into doubt. Amy’s diary entries trigger flashbacks of meeting Nick at a New York party, his gentle forwardness and the bright romance of intimacy that dims when both partners, writers, lose their jobs in the Great Recession. With his mother dying of cancer and Amy’s trust fund running low, they move to his hometown in Missouri, a depressed burg riddled with unemployment and crystal meth. Amy is not happy in the heart of flyover land.

The police investigation into Amy’s presumed murder is a reminder that the party closest to the victim is usually the person of greatest interest to the authorities. Amy’s parents fly in from New York and organize the usual crusade of participatory grief with a call for volunteers to beat the bushes for clues, billboards with their daughter’s face, a tip line and a website, findamazingamy.com. Because Amy had been the inspiration for her parents’ bestselling children’s books, the Missouri media circus goes national, complete with nightly inquisitions from talk show harridan Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle), a barely fictionalized Nancy Grace. Nick lives under a magnifying glass. Every gesture or lack of gesture, statement or lack thereof, is scrutinized. Nitwit experts sit on the camera couch, offering psychological analysis of a man they have met only through his image on other TV shows.

Of course, Nick has secrets that cast doubt on his veracity as they are exposed. And the public, in his hometown and across the nation, are as fickle as the crowds that once gathered to watch blood sports in the Roman Coliseum. Nick’s only hope is to engage celebrity attorney Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), who practices spin as well as law.

Key elements of the film’s murder mystery are as convoluted as an Agatha Christie mystery, but the author of Gone Girl doesn’t share Christie’s conviction that justice is inevitable. The plot line is ultimately less interesting than what it triggers—an exploration of media, the justice system, the difficult hunt for truth and some disturbing ideas about intimacy, especially the illusions and inevitable disappointments. Affleck is believable in his role as the not especially likable victim of love.

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