GONE GIRL Review: David Fincher’s Latest Is A Trash Masterpiece

David Ehrlich loved Fincher's newest film, from the novel by Gillian Flynn. 

Gone Girl is a glorious shitstorm waiting to happen. Of course, Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name has been polarizing readers since it was published in the summer of 2012, but David Fincher’s pulpy and Pinter-esque adaptation pinches nerves that most movies can’t even feel, its playful sense of public spectacle elevating a stellar beach read into a lurid, hilarious and brutally honest trash masterpiece.

Fincher is magnetized by the kind of pop appeal that might put off other filmmakers of his caliber, the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo director once again plundering a paperback in order to wrap his hand around its beating heart, squeeze it like a sponge and stare at the bile that oozes out. Working from a script by Flynn herself, Gone Girl is a domestic horror show that grows more discomfortingly familiar as it balloons to a national scale. As if Brian De Palma remade Hitchcock’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith and set it inside of the wettest dream that Nancy Grace has ever had, Fincher’s latest is perhaps most remarkable for how it exceeds the sum of its parts. This is a movie in which Tyler Perry plays a kick-ass defense attorney named Tanner Bolt. This is a movie in which one of the most crucial female roles is played by a girl from the “Blurred Lines” video. This is a movie in which Ben Affleck flashes some prominent side-dick just because he can. This is one of the great films of 2014.

As with most tragedies, Gone Girl begins in Missouri. Nick Dunne (a brilliant and slippery Ben Affleck, who fills out his Batman body with a performance that requires more layers in certain shots than Zack Snyder will likely ask of him in a franchise) is a basic bitch with a rounded chin. A failed journalist who teaches writing classes at a mediocre college and co-owns a local bar with his twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon) – an eminently reasonable woman who never made it out of their affluent hometown – Nick seems determined to be the most typical kind of husband he can. Whatever Nick is, it’s almost always precisely what’s expected of him.

Nick’s wife, on the other hand, is a proper mystery who’s about 1,000 miles out of her element. Amy Dunne (the revelatory Rosamund Pike, channeling her inner Veronica Lake towards a breathy and ferocious performance that will be remembered long after this Oscar season has been forgotten) is a severe New York princess who was bred like a show horse and raised like a cash cow, her upbringing defined by the role her brownstone-buying parents wrote for her in a series of popular books about a character named “Amazing Amy.” “They plagiarized your childhood!”, Nick tells her on one of their first dates, the film retracing the noxiously handsome couple’s romantic trajectory through the pages of Amy’s hyper-detailed diary. They met in New York before the recession, only for them to lose their jobs and move south in order to conserve some money and care for Nick’s ailing parents, neither of whom they could do much to save.

On the morning of their fifth anniversary, Amy vanishes from the catalogue-clean McMansion that she and Nick share in flyover land, leaving no trace of her whereabouts save for a shattered glass table in the living room and a small streak of blood in the kitchen. Nick seems genuinely shell-shocked by his wife’s disappearance, turning to Detective Boney (At Any Price star Kim Dickens, whose performance would be the standout of most other films) and her halfwit partner (Patrick Fugit) for help. He’s worried, of course, but not so worried that he can’t sneak a peak at Boney’s ass as she combs Nick’s house for clues regarding the whereabouts of his missing wife. It isn’t long before the entire town is rallying to Nick’s aid, and Amy’s minor celebrity expedites the media circus that invariably circles around a missing white woman. It sounds like a familiar story, particularly once it’s revealed that Nick and Amy’s marriage wasn’t quite as perfect as it appeared from the outside, but a different picture begins to form once the police open Amy’s panty drawer and find an envelope marked “Clue One.” Gone Girl, Flynn then reveals with the giddy momentum of a Korean revenge thriller, isn’t about a man trying to find his wife so much as it’s about a couple discovering who they were together.

Whenever it seems as if Gone Girl might be content to be a chintzy Walmart riff on Certified Copy, telling yet another story about the performative nature of relationships and surfing it with a gaudy element of new media sensationalism (“tragedy vampirism,” as Fincher calls it), the film completely changes course, Flynn’s devious script showing its true colors a little bit more each time it sheds its skin. The flirty flashbacks that dominate the first act are so replete with desperately clever banter that it almost feels like Amy’s diary was ghostwritten by Diablo Cody, Flynn’s dialogue settling into a more naturalistic cadence whenever the film returns to the present. Be that as it may, the screenplay never loses that venomous bite – if anything, Flynn’s jet-black humor ramps up as the story steers towards classic film noir. Fincher has always been under-appreciated for his dry ice sense of humor, but Gone Girl could be construed as his first outright comedy. The laughs escalate in tandem with the film’s magnificent vulgarity, Fincher’s depiction of married life not a cookie laced with arsenic so much as it’s a vial of arsenic laced with cookie crumbs.

Those who revere Fincher for his icy remove have no need to fear, however, as the sterility of his compositions has never been so pronounced. Even The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo allowed for things to get hectic when Lisbeth was in danger, but Gone Girl may not include so much as a single handheld shot – the entire film is palpably suffused with the serenity of a still lake, and if the waters ever ripple it’s only to call attention to the bodies floating beneath the surface. Lest it sound like every frat boy’s favorite stylist has taken his foot off the gas, however, Fincher absolutely transforms Flynn’s bestseller with the precision of his cinema. The director’s innate ruthlessness has never been a better fit for his material, and the dense texture of his shallow focus compositions – often tinged with a dreamy haze courtesy of longtime DP Jeff Cronenweth – creates a feeling of constant distrust, as if the camera is looking at every character through some serious side-eye.

And truly, no one is let off the hook. In the time since it was first published, Flynn’s story has sparked any number of debates about its perceived misogyny, and the film’s cagey manipulation of audience sympathies makes it seem eager to invite many more of them. But Gone Girl is not a film that believes in heroes and villains, even though it has a great deal of fun batting that dichotomy around like a human piñata. The heart of the film – and something that both Affleck and Pike are attuned to with every detail of their performances – is that Gone Girl is ultimately a love story, one made true by its perversities.

There’s a humiliating disparity between how little people know about the inner workings of a relationship, and how much people assume that they do, a point Gone Girl illustrates in order to reconcile how marriage is a construct that allows couples to negotiate between private complicity and public spectacle. To tweak the final line of an earlier David Fincher film: “‘Marriage is a fine place and worth fighting for.’ I agree with the second part.”