It’s okay to be nervous. Our first instinct when a beloved book is turned into a movie is to get up on our hind legs and anticipate all the ways that Hollywood will get it wrong. Two summers ago, you couldn’t walk through an airport or ride the subway without spotting half-devoured copies of Gillian Flynn’s bruise-black thriller Gone Girl everywhere you looked. And for good reason. It was the rare page-turner that balanced beautiful writing, breathless pacing, and booby-trap plot twists that landed with the brass-knuckle force of a sucker-punch. Not surprisingly, it was quickly optioned and fast-tracked into one of the most eagerly anticipated films of the fall, with David Fincher behind the camera and Flynn (a former EW colleague of mine) adapting her own story for the screen. There were reasons to be wary, of course. Was Ben Affleck too smug—and let’s face it, too on-the-nose—to play the callow Nick Dunne? Was Rosamund Pike too icily ethereal and untested to play his missing wife, Amy? And how would the film handle the novel’s just-short-of-preposterous Big Reveal? Well, the answers are no, no, and…masterfully. Fincher and Flynn’s film gets just about everything right.
It’s hard to discuss a movie like Gone Girl without giving too much away. (There must be some people out there who haven’t read it yet, right?) But I’ll try anyway. Both a bleak snapshot of modern love gone toxic and a razor-toothed satire of tabloid-era sensationalism, Fincher’s film tells the nightmare story of Nick and Amy Dunne, a fairy-tale couple whose marriage has soured into a curdled stew of resentment, hostility, and possibly murder. On the morning of their fifth anniversary, Amy disappears from their suburban Missouri home, leaving behind upturned furniture, shattered glass, and traces of blood. Nick, a self-absorbed bar owner who’s curiously unflustered by his wife’s absence, quickly becomes the police’s prime suspect. His alibi is hardly airtight; worse, Amy’s diary paints him as unfaithful and short-tempered. Is she dead or just simply…gone? We’ve all seen this sort of scenario on countless fearmongering episodes of Dateline and The First 48. But what makes Gone Girl so intoxicating is the way the mystery unfolds. As Nick explains his side of the story to a pair of detectives (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) who aren’t buying what he’s selling, the missing Amy tells hers through voice-overs and flashbacks.
The movie asks: How much did Nick know about his wife? But what it’s really asking the audience is: How much do any of us know about our partners? As Nick, Affleck gives what may be the most natural performance of his career. He’s confident without being cocky, charming without being smarmy. You get the sense that his cruel season under the media’s magnifying glass with J. Lo wasn’t entirely for naught. And as Amy, Pike summons levels of depth and daring she’s never been asked to grapple with before. Fincher uses the same deliberateness with every casting choice in the film. As Nick’s sister Margo, Carrie Coon gives the film its gallows humor and spikiest laughs, and Tyler Perry is the epitome of calculating oiliness as Nick’s high-priced defense attorney. (Who knew?) Conducting it all like a true-crime Toscanini is Fincher—a mischievious maestro who turns the film into the puzzle-box workout that his 1997 brainteaser The Game wanted to be. I can’t guarantee that the film’s ending will work for everyone (it was always my one nit to pick with Flynn’s novel). But I will say this: Anyone who loved Gone Girl the book will walk out of Gone Girl the movie with a sick grin on their face. You can stop being nervous. A