The past 15 years have done a number on American suburbia. In 1999, a simpler and sweeter time, Sam Mendes used American Beauty to pull back the curtain on the subculture's sinister core. In 2014, Gone Girl serves a similar purpose, but shoulders a heavier load: today is far more readily sinister, malevolent, desperate, and disgusting than the pre-9/11 era captured in Mendes' Oscar winner.
So, naturally, we turn to David Fincher.
Just as Gone Girl is 2014's equivalent to Clinton Era American Beauty, the new film is 50s Fincher's answer to the mid-30s-Fincher product Fight Club. In exploring the disappearance of writer Amy Dunn (Rosamund Pike), the film's story spotlights the diabolical wire rigs behind her relationship with husband Nick (Ben Affleck) - and, by extension, the ugly truths fueling or anchoring any modern marriage (hell, if people this pretty have problems ).
The novel adaptation claims stake in the genres of mystery, horror, psychological thriller, relationship drama, and - hell, for sure - black comedy, having a ton of twisted fun as both an elaborate whodunit and a socio-psychological term paper on contemporary gender politics.
Affleck is a hoot as the rigidly dislikable Nick, a charmless cad who can look shlubby even with a mile-long shoulder width. Pike, too, is a treat, batting around banter in perfect company with Fincher's dreamy eye to produce a heightened reality that hits visceral levels. But the supporting cast is Gone Girl's claim to fame. As a hard-nosed detective, Kim Dickens is electric enough to escape the limiting nature of her audience surrogate character; right beside her is an almost wordless Patrick Fugit, whose stoic body language manages a laugh every time. And yes, believe it: Tyler Perry is pretty good.
But what is probably most impressive about the movie - a factor that, to some, might actually prove most frustating - is its comfort with keeping certain things nebulous. At the risk of anticlimax, Gone Girl occassionally favors implications over answers, suggesting to the audience that its conversation extends the parameters of its plot.
Never lilting in its energy thanks to an unorthodox structure and feverish editing, Gone Girl is as broadly enjoyable as it is clever. Fincher manages with middle age what he mastered with fading youth, in 2014 what Mendes tried in '99. It's all very frightening, all too provocative, and all one mess of a good time.