IN GONE GIRL, David Fincher's first comedy since Fight Club, there's a great exchange about Nick Dunne, the character played by Ben Affleck. "You really don't like him, do you?" one character asks another as they look at Nick. "What's to like?" the other responds. Fincher promptly cuts to Affleck—looking profoundly unlikeable—and everyone watching Gone Girl laughs.
Because, yeah: Ben Affleck. That smarmy smile contradicting that brooding brow, our memories of him suited up as Daredevil contradicting the existence of Argo. As an actor, Affleck can feel earnest, but he can also feel calculating; sometimes he's charming, and sometimes he seems like an asshole. He's a hard guy to figure out. Which means he's perfectly cast as Nick Dunne—a character who sometimes seems earnest and hapless, and sometimes seems like a murdering psychopath.
That tension plays through much of Gone Girl, based on the bestseller by Gillian Flynn (notably adapted for the screen by the author herself). A few minutes in, Nick comes home to his sprawling, generic suburban house to find his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), is missing. Their glass coffee table lies shattered in the living room. There's something that might be blood in the kitchen. Nick calls the cops (Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit), and he calls his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon), and soon thereafter, he realizes he's become a suspect. Ostensibly, everyone in the film is focused on finding Amy—but Fincher and Flynn want us to look elsewhere. Like, say, at that smarmy smile and that brooding brow, as we try to figure out how much Nick knows. Affleck, smiling and fumbling, plays it flawlessly—and so does Pike, who, in flashbacks, brings Amy to life, revealing a woman and a marriage far more complicated than they first seem.
Not every movie that features this much blood and this many missing wives is this funny, but the dark, cold humor in Gone Girl nicely complements Flynn's pulpy plot. The film doubles back on itself, again and again—and as it does, Flynn and Fincher wink and poke at the characters and the audience: How much, Gone Girl asks, do we really trust Nick? How much do we really know about Amy? There's a venomous edge to Nick and Amy's story—but the people telling it are hardly reliable narrators.
It'd be easy for another director to lose track of Gone Girl—to let the tone get too silly or too creepy, to weigh the mystery too hard in one direction or the other. Thankfully, Gone Girl feels as methodical and careful as one would expect from Fincher. Alongside frequent collaborators like cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth and editor Kirk Baxter, and with another canny score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Fincher's made a film that has the shine of well-polished camp. Like a similar movie from a few years ago, Steven Soderbergh's Side Effects, Gone Girl has a weirdly enjoyable tone: It's what a direct-to-video erotic thriller from the '90s might feel like, were it made by an A-list director.
Unlike many of those fine erotic thrillers, though, there's more going on in Gone Girl than first appears. It's kind of like that old magic trick where the magician vanishes his assistant: For all his flourishes and distractions, everyone watching knows the disappearing woman had to go somewhere. A magician would just take a bow and exit, but not here: In Gone Girl, the fun starts when Fincher and Flynn let the audience in on their secrets.