Gone Girl is a chilling, effective thriller

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Can you really tell what your partner is thinking? What is really going on in his or her head?

This is the central question asked in Gone Girl, the new film directed by David Fincher. Based on the 2012 novel by Gillian Flynn (who adapted the screenplay), the movie is a rollercoaster of suspense and multi-layered narratives. Inspired by the real-life disappearance of Laci Peterson, the story examines themes of dishonesty in relationships, infidelity, predetermination of guilt, and unreliability.

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) discovers his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is missing from their Missouri home. As he begins looking for her, his quiet, sullen behavior causes people to become suspicious. Nick’s main ally is his twin sister Margot (Carrie Coon), who swears to help clear his name at all costs. He clings to the hope that Amy is alive, but things take a twist when the police label him a suspect in her disappearance. Further complicating things, Nick is revealed to have been in an affair with another woman as he learned about Amy’s paranoid, troubled nature. He turns to famed celebrity lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), who might be the only person to prove his innocence.

Throughout the plot, flashbacks reveal that Nick had met Amy at a party and quickly fell in love with her. Once married, their lives become complicated due to the recession, which costs them their journalism jobs. After tending to Nick’s terminally-ill mother, the couple are forced to rely on Amy’s trust fund; her wealthy parents used her name and personality for their “Amazing Amy” children’s book series. Amy loathes what she has become, longing for her former privileged lifestyle. She also wants to have a baby, but Nick refuses to father a child during such a stressful time. Following a heated confrontation, Amy begins fearing Nick might kill her and takes extreme measures.

Ben Affleck brings a multi-layered performance as Nick Dunne. Fresh from his Oscar-winning success as a director and producer, he delivers a subdued, vulnerable quality to the role. Nick appears to be a likeable person, but his reluctance to open up causes people to mistrust him. Having been a once-ridiculed tabloid figure, Affleck manages to convey increased desperation, weariness and anger as the story progresses.

Pike, for her part, shines in the complex role of Amy. At times, she is uncertain and timid for her safety, becoming cold and methodical just as easily. Whereas the role could have been a one-dimensional character, Pike portrayed a sympathetic and misunderstood woman as she attempts to make her way in the world. Her best scenes are a compelling contrast: the initial meeting with Nick and a tense argument over the disintegration of their marriage.

The rest of the cast are exceptional in their roles. Tyler Perry gives a juicily comedic performance in his role as Tanner Bolt. In such a serious film, his presence allows for a few welcome light moments. Carrie Coon brings a strong, feisty presence as Margo, but her faith begins to crumble as she learns Nick has not been telling the full truth. Even Neil Patrick Harris makes the most of his brief role as Desi Collings, Amy’s ex-boyfriend who harbors strong feelings for her. While the character may be similar to Harris’ smarmy womanizer on How I Met Your Mother, he is pleasant and sympathetic, albeit a little possessive.

The film should also be lauded for its technical achievement. Lit by cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, Gone Girl has a cold, grim atmosphere reminiscent of Fincher’s films Se7en and The Social Network. Given the nature of the director’s past work, the result feels oddly appropriate. Trevor Reznor and Atticus Ross’ ambient, chilling score results in a somber, eerie feeling while watching the movie in theaters.

As it stands, Gone Girl is one of the year’s best movies. Affleck and Pike give the most powerful performances of their careers and it might very well be one of Fincher’s greatest films to date.