'Gone Girl' (R)

On his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) gets a call from his neighbor, saying his front door is ajar. Nick goes home to investigate and finds a crime scene: Broken furniture, shattered glass, traces of blood. Most importantly, there is no trace of his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike).

The police immediately suspect the husband, the way they usually do in such cases. But Nick, who owns a bar in Missouri with his sister, seems like an unlikely candidate to have committed the crime. The audience — and the media —are on his side, and a news frenzy begins in the hope someone knows Amy’s whereabouts.

That’s the set-up for Gone Girl, which was directed by David Fincher (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and adapted from her own novel by Gillian Flynn. As the movie initially goes through the usual paces — forensics experts are called in; Nick is interrogated; his past is investigated — the picture feels like a superbly made, tony whodunnit. Fincher’s camera is restrained but precise: He fills rooms with sharp angles and straight lines, giving the film a somewhat antiseptic feel, but as Nick tries to keep it together under the mounting pressure of the search, a feeling of dread sneaks into the movie. Clearly, there’s more going on here than we’re being shown.

The film is split between the present and the past, when Nick and Amy first met in New York City and married, living a comfortable life as magazine journalists. She kept a diary, which we hear in voiceover, talking about how happy she is and how lucky she was to meet Nick.

Meanwhile, in Missouri, small pieces of suspicious evidence start to pop up that, while not enough to make a substantial case, keep the cops trained on Nick (Almost Famous’ Patrick Fugit is particularly good as a cop who doesn’t say much but takes in everything, his eyes telling you what he’s thinking). Eventually, although he continues to proclaim his innocence, Nick is forced to hire a lawyer (Tyler Perry). Each day that Amy remains missing makes her husband seem more guilty.

Gone Girl would have been perfectly satisfying as a straightforward missing-person thriller with some unexpected turns of plot. But Fincher and Flynn want to dig deeper. What happens to a storybook marriage when the spouses grow up and change? How much do we take for granted about the people we think we know inside-out? How much of our lives consist of decisions based on material values and our pursuit of the perfect American dream? In today’s 24/7 media climate, how easily can hearts and minds be swayed?

Although it runs almost 2½ hours, Gone Girl zips by because the movie keeps changing the game on you. The film doesn’t pack the same punch the book did, but that’s more a matter of the medium than the material (this is, with a couple of minor changes, one of the most faithful movie adaptations ever made). Affleck, who has more experience than most people at living (and surviving) media scandals, grounds Nick in a befuddled confusion: He does everything he’s told to do, until like anyone else, he starts to lose his patience.

Pike is a revelation as the gorgeous, smart wife whose diary entries are the work of a romantic in love, yet is still capable of flashing scary signs of displeasure when she’s unhappy. They’re a perfect couple, at least from the outside, and Fincher shows a new flair for burrowing deep into domestic life and relationships without a serial killer or monster lurking (although he does pull off one operatically bloody murder; you can almost see him smile behind the camera during the scene).

The less you know about Gone Girl going in the better, but even knowing what’s ahead doesn’t prepare you for the movie’s tone, which is funny yet curdled and cynical and bleak. This is a satirical antidote to the feel-good pap most Hollywood movies about relationships push on their audiences – the perfect date movie for someone you want to break up with.

Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry.

Director: David Fincher.

Screenwriter: Gillian Flynn. Based on her novel.

A 20th Century Fox release. Running time: 145 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, a scene of bloody gore, adult themes.

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