Remember when the “relationship thriller” was a staple of Hollywood moviemaking. Michael Douglas starred in over 400 of them in the ‘80s and ‘90s—“Fatal Attraction,” “Basic Instinct,” “Disclosure,” and “A Perfect Murder.” Then he was sidelined due to cunnilingus-induced throat cancer. “Gone Girl” feels like the 21st century version of an age-old paradigm. Guy and girl fall in love. Guy and girl fall out of love. Foul play becomes involved, and a mystery begins to unravel.
“Gone Girl” is an amazing dissertation on a number of subjects. First and foremost, it’s a fantastic drama with some of the best performances I’ve seen this year. Secondly, it’s a fascinating deep dive into the nature of long-term relationships. Thirdly, and most importantly, it’s a deftly directed thriller that shows David Fincher (“Seven,” “Fight Club”) is still improving his craft. Far and away, this is the best movie I’ve seen in 2014. A tense, sobering, and at times darkly comic tale, it finds a way to make the relationship thriller feel wholly original.
Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and Amy Elliot (Rosamund Pike) are two aspiring writers who seem perfectly suited for one another. He presents himself as writer with a penchant for smooth-talking. She is the cool girl who always has a pithy response and plots out fun scavenger hunts for their anniversary. They are the model couple in the same way the model home works in a property development: It’s meant to have the appearance of perfection even though sometimes it’s held together with spackle and wood glue.
Everything seems fine when both of them are doing well. Nick writes for a men’s magazine and aspires to be a novelist. Amy is a trust-fund baby who wants to do something more meaningful with her life. Things are picturesque as they spin their wheels in Manhattan, but then reality starts to creep in. Nick loses his job. His mother is diagnosed with stage-four cancer, and he has to return home to care for her. The bowels of Missouri aren’t exactly the high-society happenings of Manhattan. She becomes bored. He becomes distant. The passion that once fueled their relationship is long gone, and the remnants of their marriage putters along on fumes.
Then one morning Amy disappears. There are signs of a struggle. The police become involved and all signs point to Nick. It’s a story we’re all too familiar with: A dissatisfied husband begins an affair, winds up in financial trouble and the wife ends up missing. The national news media jumps on the story, trying Nick in the court of public opinion. He maintains his innocence, even though the evidence against him is mounting at an exponential rate. Is this the cut-and-dry story of a husband who murdered his wife, or is there something more sinister at play? You’d hate me for spoiling the details of the story.
This is a fantastically written screenplay that is amazingly well-assembled. It’s a film that doesn’t rely on one twist or reveal: There are many, many layers at work here. Moving parts interconnect one another in an intricate fashion. The movie twists and turns at a brisk pace. It’s a two-and-a-half hour movie that breezes by. I can’t think of another movie I’ve seen all year that has felt so perfectly timed. There isn’t a single wasted moment in “Gone Girl.” Every scene is salient. There’s is no fat to trim.
I give a lot of the credit to David Fincher: He seems to have learned a lot from some of his recent hit-or-miss offerings like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”—two movies that felt like they were overdosing on excess. “Gone Girl” is by far his best film; however, I have to give the lion’s share of kudos to Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike who deliver mesmerizing performances. Pike is a revelation, and Affleck manages to achieve a career-high two decades after he first started working in film. It’s amazing to think that someone like Affleck, who has endured so many career ups and downs, has managed to transition back into one of Hollywood’s most interesting actors and directors. Plus, he’s Batman. So he has that going for him.
Do yourself a favor: Go see “Gone Girl.” It is one of those rare films that achieves levels of perfection that most movies rarely reach. Most importantly, it’s ridiculously entertaining. Fincher isn’t afraid to go bananas with the source material and make one of the most devilish relationship thrillers ever. See this movie. You will not regret this decision.
Starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike and Neil Patrick Harris
Directed by David Fincher