DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. The film adaptation of Gillian Flynn's best-selling mystery novel, "Gone Girl" arrives in movie theaters today. It's directed by David Fincher, best known for "The Social Network" and "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo." And it stars Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike and in smaller roles, Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry. Film critic David Edelstein has this review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: What can I tell you about "Gone Girl" without dropping a dreaded spoiler? It's a film, you know that, and a long one, almost two and half hours, though they go by quickly. It's based on a best-selling mystery by Gillian Flynn, that divided readers and divided me. I loved the audacity of the plotting, without being sold on the pathology of one of the characters.
The movie, directed by David Fincher, from a screenplay by Flynn is sensationally effective. It's even more fun than the book. It's made like a classic noir, evenly paced with an elegance that in context is deeply perverse. Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, an ex-magazine writer who's about to celebrate his fifth anniversary of marriage to his wife, Amy. But since that afternoon, in the Missouri bar he runs with his twin sister, looking glum and antsy. He arrives at his suburban McMansion to find signs of a struggle and no Amy. So far, so straightforward, but detectives linger over the incongruities of the scene. Did Nick murder Amy and make it look like a kidnapping? He's evasive about something.
A clue might come from the stunning prologue, a shot of the back of a woman's head on a pillow, her golden tresses aglow. Nick narrates, stroking her hair. He says, the only way to know what's in a person's mind would be to shatter her skull. Then the woman turns to face the camera. It's Amy, played by Rosamund Pike. Her eyes open, and she stares into ours, the look is teasingly ambiguous. "Gone Girl" weaves Nick's dissent into public infamy, with excerpts from a diary Amy kept before she disappeared read aloud by the gone girl herself. First it's idyllic. The courtship begins at a New York cocktail party.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GONE GIRL")
BEN AFFLECK: (As Nick Dunne) Amy, who are you?
ROSAMUND PIKE: (As Amy Elliot-Dunne) A - I'm an award-winning Scrimshawer. B - I'm a moderately influential warlord. C - I write personality quizzes for magazines.
AFFLECK: (As Nick Dunne) OK. Well, your hands are far too delicate for real Scrimshaw work, and I happen to be a charter subscriber to Middle East Warlord Weekly, so I'd recognize you. I'm going to go with C.
PIKE: (As Amy Elliot-Dunne) And you? Who are you?
AFFLECK: (As Nick Dunne) I'm the guy to save you from all this awesomeness.
EDELSTEIN: They are a beautiful couple. Affleck has his beefy handsomeness. Pike is like a sleek mannequin. Director Fincher's frames are gorgeous, but it's clear from "Gone Girl" and his other films like "Se7en" and "The Social Network" that he has no faith in appearances. His is a world of masks, misrepresentations - surfaces lie. Amy's character in particular understands this. She grew up the model for the heroine of her parents children's books, the character called Amazing Amy. But she can't measure up to her literary counterpart. She knows there is a gulf between how her parents represented her and what she really is.
Rosamund Pike is fascinating to watch, but it's Affleck who carries the movie. I've never much cottoned to him as an actor. I think something in him never fully commits, but that's what Fincher hones in on. Affleck's Nick doesn't mourn convincingly or look remotely honest, even when telling the truth. In one scene, his hotshot lawyer, played by Tyler Perry, rehearses him for a TV appearance and pelts him with candy when he sounds like he's lying. He gets pelted a lot. Carrie Coon is excellent as Nick's sister and Kim Dickens, delightfully acidic as a detective. There's also a satisfyingly scathing turn by Missi Pyle as a character with a strong resemblance to CNN's Nancy Grace, a ghoulish specialist in whipping up viewers' ire.
And there I would leave this phenomenally gripping film, except without revealing too much. There are instances in "Gone Girl" of trumped-up sexual assaults, and the timing is particularly bad given the present heightened awareness of real crimes against women, but this of course is a fictional story, written by a woman. Maybe we should view it as a profoundly cynical portrait of all sides of all relationships.
BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.