The Dunnes would seem to have it all. Nick has a chiseled, dimpled chin that’s so attractive his wife, Amy, describes it as “villainous.” He also has the chiseled upper body of a super hero. If you didn’t know that Ben Affleck, who plays Nick, has Batman for his next role, you could guess it from his distracting buffness. Amy (Rosamund Pike) is tall and blond with the kind of icy good looks that consistently drew the directorial attention of Alfred Hitchcock (hmm). She’s even a celebrity, albeit of an odd sort, having been the model for the heroine of a series of “Amazing Amy” children’s books.
As the many readers of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling thriller know, Amy is the title character of “Gone Girl.” As they also know, gone-ness can take many forms.
Nick and Amy live in a McMansion in the happy quietude of North Carthage, Mo., his hometown. They moved there from New York — where else could such a golden couple have met and married? — when Nick’s mother got sick. Now he owns a bar, called The Bar (clever fellow, Nick), which he runs with his twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon). Amy paid for it with the last bit of her trust fund. What does Amy do? Well, nothing much, really. And when we first meet Nick, it’s at The Bar, it’s before noon, and he’s drinking. Today is his and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary, but he’s not exactly drinking to celebrate. Oh, and when he gets home, Amy has disappeared. So maybe the quietude isn’t so happy, after all.
“Gone Girl” has been much anticipated: a big-ticket property filmed by an even bigger-ticket director, David Fincher. Fincher has shown a title for bringing to the screen complicated plots (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”), complicated, beleaguered women (ditto, “Panic Room”), and bringing to life emotionally unattractive overachievers (“The Social Network”). “Gone Girl” would seem a good match for his smoothly efficient, if slightly inhuman, talents.
Except that it’s not. Flynn’s piling up of yuppie-pulp implausibilities — don’t worry, no further plot description will occur — leave Fincher at a loss. “Zodiac” (his best movie?) is a brilliantly unsettling exercise in nothing ever quite coming together. It’s the intersection of procedure and irresolution. “Gone Girl” is quite otherwise: a cloverleaf of some procedure (Affleck actually hums the “Law & Order” theme at one point) and, ultimately, a lot of explaining (voice-overs come in handy). The movie glories in the sound of very large pieces of plot snapping together very loudly, though admittedly the snapping takes its own sweet time. “Gone Girl” is a loooong 149 minutes. Perhaps Flynn, who did the adaptation, has been a little too faithful to her novel. The faux-punchiness of her dialogue doesn’t help matters. The characters sound like people trying to sound like people in the movies and not quite pulling it off.
Fincher does keep the Volvo SUVs moving — he’s nothing if not proficient — but he seems disengaged. Or he does until a scene of Grand Guignol mayhem toward the end of the movie. The screen erupts not just with blood but also an intensity the movie otherwise lacks.
It’s never a good sign when the supporting cast is the best thing in a big, splashy movie. Coon’s Margo is smart and personable and lively as Affleck’s Nick never is. (Just because his character’s meant to be unsympathetic doesn’t mean his performance should be inert.) Kim Dickens’s police detective nicely combines sourness and staying power. Playing a high-powered defense attorney, Tyler Perry is smooth, funny, and unflappable. “Gone Girl” would be a lot more entertaining, and probably a lot better, if he and Affleck had exchanged roles.
An egregiously miscast Neil Patrick Harris, as an old beau of Amy’s, at least has a vividness neither principal does. Affleck looks even more uncomfortable than Nick ought to be, and that’s saying a lot. As for Pike, she looks like an elongated Renée Zellweger on nasty pills. (What has Renée Zellweger been up to?)
Misogyny has a long and unattractive history in the movies. Despite Flynn’s being a woman, “Gone Girl” adds to that history. Amy is amazing, all right, and in ways unimaginable to her parents — or viewers. Maybe readers could imagine them, but things on the page can get by a phoniness detector in a way that things on the screen can’t. Seeing is believing, yes. It can be disbelieving, too.