Will he kiss me? Or kill me? That was pretty much the central jeopardy faced by the heroine of Suspicion, the Oscar-winning 1941 marital thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock – or at least that’s how the movie posters spelled it out, anyway. Seventy-three years later, Gone Girl, the new suspense film based on Gillian Flynn’s 2012 bestselling novel, could be advertised pretty much the same way. But, as with Suspicion, though in vastly different ways, “Will he kiss me or kill me?” isn’t nearly the half of it.
Nimbly adapted for the screen by Flynn herself, directed with icy, bone-freezing precision by David Fincher (Seven, Zodiac), and ferociously brilliant from top to bottom, Gone Girl is out of this world, a powerful reminder of what cool, crazy, dangerous, hugely entertaining things can happen when big studios let grownup filmmakers make movies for and about grownups.
The movie’s setup seems so simple but its aftertaste, and aftershocks, linger. It’s the day of their sixth wedding anniversary and a former journalist returns home to find his perfectly perfect wife vanished, their living room ransacked. The guy’s real-life template is obvious — Scott Peterson and his all-American sociopathic brethren. When the husband starts acting and behaving suspiciously and the mystery of his wife’s disappearance deepens, it ignites a search that unleashes a national media feeding frenzy and, with it, the descent of vultures clearly meant to remind us of Johnny Cochran, Nancy Grace and others.
We wouldn’t spoil the movie for the world, but make no mistake: This a deeply, scarily sick and acidly funny movie fueled by a deep and endless supply of carbolic acid. Sure, it makes knowing nods to classics directed by Hitchcock, let alone lesser but hugely popular ’80s flicks as Fatal Attraction and The Jagged Edge. But unlike those latter-day flash-in-the-pan thrillers, this one is infinitely smarter, sadder, with oceans of subtext swirling beneath its deliberately glossy, perfection-obsessed surface.
Which brings us to the titular girl who goes missing, Amy Dunne, “Amazing Amy” to the mother who used her as the inspiration for a series of popular children’s books. Amy — played by the British actress Rosamund Pike whom you may have seen (wasted) in Jack Reacher and The World’s End — is a polished, cultivated, well-educated, ambitious, spoiled product of moneyed, ferociously over-achieving automaton parents. Amy wants what she’s been groomed for, what the books, magazines, TV and her parents have promised, and she wants it now. As Joni Mitchell put it: A woman must have everything.
What she gets is Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, a character who is good-looking, reasonably talented, not especially likeable; a self-entitled, dickish lout who is good at glib conversation and less good at actually delivering. What a pair these two make, holding each other to impossible standards, and as the plot corkscrews again and again, Fincher and Flynn hold up a mirror to the audience and dare us to look away. Look, this is the kind of movie that is so entertaining, well made, so resonant that it makes movie-mad people fall in love with moves all over again.
Affleck may never give Daniel Day-Lewis sleepless nights but he’s never been better and he’s exactly what this thing needs. Pike, with that cool, detached beauty, poise and unknowable air of mystery, is a revelation. And the rest of the cast — Carrie Coon as the hero’s smart-talking sister, Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit as small town detectives, Tyler Perry as a high-profile lawyer, Neil Patrick Harris as one of the heroine’s ex boyfriends — make their roles fit like gloves. Go. Now. ****