As Catholics and Christians, the ideal is to have marriage last for a lifetime. But as we also know, there sometimes are circumstances so difficult that they result in annulments and civil divorces. And in our tragic, sin-absorbed world, sometimes marriages even go so far awry that they result in murder.
The new movie “Gone Girl” portrays one of those toxic marriages, and shows how things deteriorated from a fairy-tale beginning. Yet while that is a dark theme, and while the movie takes numerous twisted turns along the way to its riveting conclusion, it is also an amazingly well-made thriller that would likely have been made by Alfred Hitchcock if he were alive today. While it is definitely for adults, most adults will find it one heck of a rollercoaster ride.
The movie stars Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as Nick and Amy, a couple of professional magazine writers in New York City who meet in 2005, marry a couple of years later and have a happy and highly sexual relationship until the economy goes cold in 2009.
We see how their marriage goes cold through layoffs and relocations, and the film alternates the slow buildup of disappointments with the fast-paced present-day pileup of stomach-churning clues that Nick find when it appears that his wife has been either kidnapped or killed by a home invader.
As Nick races to discover what happened to his wife, he finds himself under investigation by the police and the victim of unceasing tabloid-style cable TV coverage that slowly wears on him as well. These factors would be the heart of most other thrillers, but the highly ambitious team behind “Gone Girl” have seemingly dozens of plot twists up their sleeves from there.
“Gone Girl” is written by Gillian Flynn, who adapted her own smash-hit novel for the screen. The book sold two million copies in hardcover alone during its first year in print, underscoring the storytelling power of its author, a power that is only enhanced by the frequent casting surprises to be found in the rest of its 2 ½-hour running time.
But to reveal more about this movie’s intricate plot would be a crime in itself. Surprises unfold all the way through to the last shot of the movie, making this a film that will both make jaws drop repeatedly and then also wag obsessively afterwards in discussion of who did what to whom and why, and whether Flynn and the team behind this movie are poking a hole into all marriages or merely analyzing this one.
That is a major question for discerning viewers to consider, as the opening and closing narration by Nick makes marriage sound like an unpleasant emotional and psychological prison or war zone. While they are indeed just one couple, the movie shows no balance of happy marriages or families, leaving one to assume that Flynn and director David Fincher are attacking the institution itself.
There is also frequent profanity, three brief yet fairly graphic sex scenes, as well as a brutal murder scene that occurs amid a forceful seduction, so “Gone Girl” has definitely earned its R rating and should absolutely not be seen by children or teens. It should also be noted that deception, lying and double-crossing are the order of the day among all the major characters. However, most of the sex is cut away from fairly quickly and the one violent murder is portrayed as unequivocally evil.
It might be easy to react to a paragraph like the one above and assume there is no place whatsoever for such material to be seen by faithful filmgoers. But the material is handled mostly with taste and discretion, and is not presented in a positive prurient fashion that would be likely to lead to occasions of sin. Sin complicates lives, and it is fair game for a movie to deal with grown-up issues in a grown-up fashion as long as they don’t cross the line into exploiting the behavior through titillation or the outright endorsement of said sin.
Through it all, “Gone Girl” is a movie that attains perfection and zips quickly through its lengthy running time, barely giving viewers a chance to catch their breath and wrap their minds around the latest twisted moment. That Flynn and director Fincher (“Seven,” “The Social Network”) manage to do this even while leaving viewers to wonder throughout which characters are meant to be rooted for and which are meant to be despised is a cinematic sleight of hand that absolutely stands up in comparison to the best of Hitchcock’s darkest explorations of the human soul in films like “Vertigo.”
While Affleck should finally be able to destroy the stigma of his years chasing cash-grab movies and Jennifer Lopez with his rich and multilayered performance here, it’s the rest of the cast that delivers the biggest surprises. Pike is wondrous as Amy, whose story is brought to life through beautifully etched and sharply edited flashbacks, and this movie is so strong that even Tyler Perry steals several scenes as the ace defense lawyer Nick hires to clear his name and Neil Patrick Harris is believable as the dramatically dark flip side of his womanizing Barney on the just-ended CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.”
Fincher turns the screws with precision, leaving viewers with a haunting portrait of a marriage gone wrong and the disturbing awareness that there are others like them across our land. He, Flynn and the cast also take satirical stabs at cable news and our tabloid obsessions, where the latest flash of lurid temptation takes precedence over facts every time.
Packed with tension, shot with masterful skill and riveting from start to finish, “Gone Girl” is a frontrunner for this years’ Oscars and is unlikely to be gone from theaters anytime soon.