“Gone Girl” Sometimes Rises Above Pedestrian Material

imageDirector David Fincher’s brilliant career has been marked by incredible displays of calculating gamesmanship, manifested in modern-day classics such as Se7en, Zodiac, Fight Club, The Social Network and, well, The Game, so it’s not altogether inconceivable that he’d adapt a twisty thriller based on a popular novel about the chess match of modern marriage in Gone Girl (C+) but alas it’s not altogether successful. Told in alternating accounts from co-stars Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, the film feels a bit like a soapy ’90s holdover from the files of Disclosure or Indecent Proposal, heaping more guilty pleasure than gravitas into the cinematic canon. The first hour is pretty solid, with Affleck’s post-modern emasculated husband good for a few laughs and ultimately some raised eyebrows. Tables inevitably turn, and much of the fun is trying to get into the characters’ heads to unravel the mystery of the murky marriage. Many intentions are left unexplained, and tonal shifts are par for the course in a world that can’t resolve if it is Stepford or Anywhere USA. It all seemed a little sloppier than Fincher’s usually exacting enterprises. Some bright supporting performances by Carrie Coon as Affleck’s relatable twin sister and Kim Dickens as a sympathetic cop enliven the proceedings. Tyler Perry as actor gets some nice bits about what to reveal for the scrutiny of the media camera, and there are some clever riffs on what it means to be trapped in defined roles in a relationship. Affleck’s character jokes at one point that he feels like he’s on an episode of Law & Order, but I suppose the joke is on us that we’re paying for the privilege. The mid-point plot shift is pretty cool, but the film’s balance goes off the rails for the final few acts. Ultimately the characters’ fatal flaws were just too obvious to illuminate many universal themes and the story sometimes too ludicrous to consistently entertain.