Appearances can be deceiving.

At face value, Gone Girl, the film adaptation of the 2012 novel by Gillian Flynn, presents itself as a mystery thriller, not terribly unlike any other. But as events unfurl in this tale of the aftermath from a wife disappearing, everything you think you know gets thrown up in the air and the film becomes something else entirely.

Something sinister; something you won’t see coming; something that will knock you flat on your butt, time and time again, then consistently draw you back in before pulling the rug out again.

Any project of director David Fincher has some guaranteed level of quality but Gone Girl isn’t just quality — it’s superiority.

On the day of their five-year anniversary, struggling bar owner Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) comes home to find his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), has vanished, leaving behind only a series of anniversary riddles and a broken coffee table. What starts off as a community search for the missing Amy eventually starts to cast doubt on Nick’s side of the story. Is this really a kidnapping or is murder the more likely rationale?

[As a general disclaimer, so much of the surprise of Gone Girl comes from the, well, surprises. It doesn’t take long at all before a slew of amazing twists make their way into the story, blowing minds and bladders. I’ll do my part to keep them from you if you do your part to avoid them at all cost before the movie. Deal?]

It’s not hard to see Gone Girl as a very unique type of flower. On the outside, Fincher has constructed a very technically detailed, perfectly designed blossom. Shots are composed to the brink of perfection — very much in line with Fincher’s compulsive eye for detail — while the shifting perspectives in the plot paint an idyllic picture, lulling you into a false sense of security.

Then the pedals start getting peeled back and the thorns spear through. Flynn’s story (which she adapted into screenplay format for the film) continues to top itself in depravity after a point, while the author’s acerbic wit shines through in a number of terrific monologues and interactions, throughout which there is a whip-smart sense of humor despite every subsequent moment of the movie pushing into sicker territory.

Ever since the book was first released, there has been the question of whether Flynn’s story is feminist or misogynist. Sorry to say, but it doesn’t seem likely that the movie will put that debate to rest (I’m inclined to think it’s a bit of both, for reasons better left unspoiled.) But trust me, this isn’t the only thing the movie will have you thinking about. Gone Girl is nothing if not an intellectual farmers market of ideas on psychological motivations, media coverage in personal crisis’ and what ‘s really at the heart of a marriage. It’s hard-hitting stuff that’s presented in a masterful way.

It’s no coincidence that Gone Girl is out right at the beginning of awards season because the film has the potential for some serious gold. Fincher cements himself at the top of the directorial achievement roster for the year with this moody Rubik’s cube, even though the only problem the film has comes from his not being able to power through to the end, similar to his remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Similarly, Flynn’s brilliant writing sucks you in from moment one and deserves any and all acclaim that comes its way.

Affleck does well in his role as the embattled husband (all worries about Battfleck are pretty much gone), and The Leftovers‘ Carrie Coon steals scenes as Nick’s sardonic sister Margo, but this is Rosamund Pike’s show. Embodying the visage of classic film noir actresses, Pike is stunning in her role and makes the movie just as much as Flynn’s writing.

Gone Girl is the anti-date movie. It takes the concepts of love and marriage and blows them all to hell. Fincher and Flynn’s work is intelligent and finely crafted and the cast performances are impeccable. Like a great piece of art, it enters your psyche with its profound observations and refuses to leave. On that level alone, there may not be a better film this year.


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