There hasn’t been a soignée blonde so flat-out hate-able since Gwyneth bitched about the burdens of motherhood. Welcome to the A-list, Gone Girl star Rosamund Pike! The tall, slender, Oxford-educated actress who made her feature film debut in Die Another Day in 2002 would have made a great Hitchcock obsession, pecked by birds or poked in the shower.
Pike escapes playing go-to girlfriend roles (Jack Reacher opposite Tom Cruise) to rule as the title anti-heroine in David Fincher’s highly anticipated adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s marriage-gone-wild thriller, which opens this Friday and premiered at the New York Film Festival. Flynn, a former journalist, also scripted, tweaking an ending that never quite satisfied on the page.
For novel fans, there will be few surprises: Amy Dunne (Pike), whose parents irksomely exploited her childhood in a profitable children’s book series titled Amazing Amy, disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary to Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck doing an Affleck). Nick, who has retreated with Amy to his Missouri hometown after they both lost their Manhattan writers’ jobs, is at first the bereaved and befuddled husband. And then, thanks to some helpful clues, and the doggedness of Detective Rhonda Boney (a tart Kim Dickens), the trail begins to point at imperfect Nick and suggest foul play.
As Amy’s parents arrive from New York and generate a media frenzy to find their daughter as much as whip up flagging book sales, Nick begins to appear increasingly suspicious. And, as he sits at the generically named The Bar he owns with his down-to-earth twin, Margo (Carrie Coon, the reason to watch TV’s dour The Leftovers), his shoulder on which to cry, it emerges that a marriage that appeared perfect on the surface was already strained to the verge of divorce. Enter motive, besides clues that present means and opportunity.
Fincher (who had the audacity to put Paltrow’s head in a box in Seven) moves the story along with a page-turner’s intensity. What will happen next (ask the folks that haven’t read Flynn’s novel)?
Fincher’s Gone Girl bears a sophisticated sheen, a slick facility that represents the best a big studio can buy in terms of cinematography, art direction and the rest. The supporting characters are sharp. He gets the strongest mainstream performance Tyler Perry has ever given. He plays a Gotham lawyer, a media circus-master ringleader who gleefully takes Dunne’s case. Neil Patrick Harris, playing Amy’s rich, prep-school ex-slash-stalker, is a bit too contained in a supporting character that had more room to heavy breath in the book.
But, as Fincher demonstrated in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Social Network, he’s a bit-tone deaf to the rough edges and psychological complexity of the source material. He makes successful blockbusters, and has a knack for staging shocking violence — but what does he sacrifice? Authenticity.
Alfred Hitchcock, with his sadistic love-hate obsession with sexy blondes, would have gobbled this story. Given he wasn’t available, Kathryn Bigelow might have been a better choice for the material — but not necessarily for the box-office grosses that will come from reaching beyond the novel’s core audience.
But Bigelow would have recognized the deeper discomfort at the core of Flynn’s book: What is it like to wake up and realize the beauty next to you is actually a sociopathic beast? How can it be that this seemingly enviable match, when hit with the adversities of job loss and a move from Manhattan, turns feral?
What the movie does have is the kind of amazing female villain that’s become so rare in Hollywood. Pike embodies one of the best evil leading ladies outside of contemporary horror movies. Her Amy believes she deserves better. She’s Harvard-educated. She’s old oak; her husband’s weak pine. She’s pissed off — and she’s not going to take it anymore. But even divorce is too much of a defeat for this cracked perfectionist who always fell short of the heroine in her parents’ books, creating the odd and impossible literary sibling rivalry that defines Amy’s psychology.
As Amy steps further and further away from convention, Pike transforms from glossy, good-looking Manhattan love object to drab demon on the lam. Pike flexes her muscles playing a woman who can shift shape from moment to moment. The actress never balks as she inhabits a character that is capable, even turned on, by an evil that most wives wouldn’t admit to outside of discussing Gone Girl at book club on their second glass of sauvignon blanc.
Fincher has had some women problems in the past. He tamed Lisbeth Salander, casting the unlikely Rooney Mara and making her subordinate to Daniel Craig’s character in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, despite that movie’s title (it’s about The Girl!). And women lacked critical plot-changing roles in the boys’ club that was The Social Network. But working with author-turned-screenwriter Flynn, Fincher keeps Amy Dunne intact. She’s a poison apple in satin lingerie, a kiss-me-deadly kind of girl.