Best-seller Gone Girl scores on the big screen

by Mark Burger

Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel has been brought to the screen in absorbing, entertaining fashion by director David Fincher. Like the novel, Gone Girl is serpentine and complicated. Occasionally it’s a little too clever for its own good, but as the fall movie season gets underway this is unquestionably a class act and a likely Oscar contender.

Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike star as Nick and Amy Dunne, who appear to be the quintessence of an attractive all-American couple. Underneath that picture-perfect surface, however, there lurks mistrust, manipulation and malevolence.

Amy’s disappearance sets the story in motion. As the hours and days tick by, Nick goes from being a grief-stricken husband to being portrayed in some media circles as a possible murderer. Gone Girl is, at heart, a thriller, yet there are all sorts of sly observations about human nature, perception and misconception. There’s more to the story, and the main characters, than meets the eye.

The story shifts back and forth in its chronology, a potentially dangerous maneuver that Fincher deftly circumnavigates with the same punchy finesse as Flynn’s novel. As a result, there’s much to the proceedings that should not be divulged here, all the better to savor (and be surprised by) its plentiful twists and turns. Things that appear unimportant at the outset sometimes prove to be integral components to the puzzle.

As is customary of Fincher’s films, Gone Girl is steeped in atmosphere “” thanks in no small part to cinematographer Jeff Cronenwith who is heavily reliant on natural lighting to emphasize both mood and mystery. And a highly effective score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross helps also.

Of the pivotal lead performances, Pike’s is the juicier role (again for reasons best left unsaid), but Affleck’s internally simmering turn is just as impressive for its understated qualities. He’s a conflicted everyman “” warts and all “” who’s in over his head. Not always likable, but consistently empathetic. Both actors are first-rate.

The supporting cast is uniformly good, though the character played by Neil Patrick Harris is perhaps the film’s most problematic. Tyler Perry is super-smooth as a hotshot defense attorney with the notable name Tanner Bolt. Kim Dickens (never better) and Patrick Fugit play the principal cops on the case, with noteworthy turns by Emily Ratajkowski, UNCSA graduate Missi Pyle, Sela Ward, David Clennon, Lisa Banes and Carrie Coon, the latter in a star-making screen debut as Nick’s stalwart sister.