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Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck in GONE GIRL

Readers of Gillian Flynn’s novel–and they number in the millions is what I understand–already know what happens in Gone Girl. As directed by David Fincher this murder mystery plays out as a fascinating–and ultimately terrifying–examination of a marriage in disrepair. And this is not will-be-repaired-with-regular-date-nights-and-sans-smartphone-intimacy disrepair either. Amy Elliot Dunne (Rosamund Pike) and Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) are so toxic for each other that they shouldn’t even be in the same state, leave alone the same home.

So naturally, when the missus disappears on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, cops, the media, her parents, and eventually even his sister, suspect that Nick killed his wife. So far so good as far as setting up the murder part of this mystery goes. But things are not quite as simple or clear as they seem and Amy and Nick are far from the picture perfect couple they appear to be.

What Mr. Fincher, working off a screenplay by Ms. Flynn, does in this movie is easy to say but hard to do: he pulls back the curtain on a bad marriage and shows us the warts, the scabs, the festering wounds, and the overwhelming resentment that filled the space between two formerly successful journalists who were left with little more than each other when they were rendered unemployed by the recession.

Mr. Fincher is widely acknowledged as a technically accomplished auteur but he uses the 149-minute runtime of this movie to really get under the skin of his leads and he is assisted by performances that sit right in the sweet spot as far as giving Ms. Flynn’s characters human form goes. Amy is–often simultaneously–luminous, cold, inscrutable, and sexy. Nick is charming but also a bit of a meathead and almost pathologically callous. Watching this movie felt like watching the totality of men and women being brought into stark focus.

While I am sure it is tempting to ring up the dreaded M (misogyny, in case there was any doubt) word with regards to Mr. Fincher – based on how he portrays Amy’s character – you would be doing so by looking at only one part of the picture. If you must fairly discuss how he portrays women in this movie, you have to consider how strong and capable he renders Detective Rhonda Boney (beautifully understated performance by Kim Dickens). He also extracts a rock solid performance from Carrie Coon as Nick’s sister Margo. She is his rock, his twin sister, the voice of reason, and the face of true emotion in an ensemble so well hidden behind their fully crystallised façades that they are unable to break out from behind them – even in moments of extreme stress.

Tyler Perry plays it calm and collected as Tanner Bolt, the lawyer Nick hires when it finally becomes clear to him that he is in over his head. Neil Patrick Harris is delightfully creepy as Amy’s long-ago suitor. Jeff Cronenweth’s cinematography and the score by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross work well together to show us the sunny faces and dark sides of this couple at odds with each other.

Final Analysis: This is a relationship drama for the early 21st Century and it is a highly critical examination of the institution of marriage in this day and age. I enjoyed what Mr. Fincher has done with the source material. I’d also be really surprised if Ms. Pike doesn’t get at least some awards season love for her performance as Amy; she was so good that I’m a little scared of her.

My Advice: Go check it out. Just don’t expect a murder mystery.