We may well have just stumbled upon the new Hannibal Lecter.
That's a bold assertion to be sure, yet mark our words, it'll take just a single viewing of what is simultaneously David Fincher's most intricate and deliciously ambiguous cinematic adaptation of a literary text to date. Coming off the back of a marketing campaign so damn deceptive that its middle name might as well be Loki, Gone Girl flourishes in no small part thanks to the considerable array of undetectable aces it has up its remarkably spacious sleeve. Whether the prized The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo helmer and Gillian Flynn (who, as both the author of the novel of the same name and the screenwriter, deserves credit aplenty for conceiving and successfully translating such an inspired narrative) utilize the near-unparalleled series of game-changing moments afforded to them by the source material in the correct manner and at the correct time, however, is a matter that warrants discussion before the Academy Awards 2015 judging panel inevitably come a'calling at the production team's door.
Let's not lower the tone of the conversation just yet, though, as the list of areas in which this subversive mystery thriller-turned-psychologically unhinged power-play excels seems almost endless. As readers will no doubt have gleaned from the opening statement of this review, at the heart of Fincher's latest is an impossibly complex and therefore infinitely intriguing construct whose motivations and overall character arc are all but guaranteed to be the central talking point for just about any onlooker once the credits roll. Spoiling the identity of the character in question would be nothing short of a crime on our part given the sheer impact that the revelation of their undeniably psychopathic (yet somehow disconcertingly rational) nature had upon this reviewer first time around. Whilst recent entertainment releases such as Doctor Who's "Listen" have struggled immeasurably when it comes to delivering a pivotal rug-pull moment which allows the audience to scrutinize and analyse the piece as a whole in a completely different yet unmistakably enduringly satisfying fashion, Flynn is evidently intent on ensuring that no two viewings of the big-screen rendition of by far her most acclaimed contribution to the literary industry will ever feel the same; indeed, in that respect, she, Fincher and the staggeringly talented cast ensemble have clearly gone above and beyond, resulting in an addition to the ranks of mainstream thrillers that shan't be forgotten in any great hurry.
That said, this is definitely an unashamed mainstream work of cinema, no matter how fiercely its scribe and director might attempt to persuade us otherwise. One would hope that a 150-minute running time would be wholly justified by a motion picture which aims to convey such a dense and emotively layered narrative, yet Gone Girl brings with it some unnecessary baggage - not least a inquisitive but ultimately redundant police officer who can't help but conform to the tropes of the genre and who thus performs no meaningful function other than to deepen and develop the tantalising mystery which powers its opening and second acts - and in doing so falls prey to some pacing difficulties from time to time, either needlessly extending the infrequent sequences which prioritize purgatorial-yet-tonally-misplaced humour over tension or haphazardly rushing a key twist and/or piece of exposition which will prove crucial further down the line to the extent that when its relevance becomes clear, the viewer will most likely spend more time attempting to comprehend precisely what has transpired than they will appreciate the cunning act of misdirection which has occurred before their very eyes.
Were it not for a single, fundamental contributory element in Gone Girl's framework, the latter shortcoming could and would have easily crippled the film to such a degree that even Fincher's characteristically smooth and considered (if at times rather static) directorial work wouldn't have been enough to pull it back from the metaphorical firing line. Long-running fans of How I Met Your Mother might expect Neil Patrick Harris' portrayal of scorned lover Desi Collings (whose role in proceedings we'll stay schtum on simply to allow those planning to catch this to experience it with as little foreknowledge of what's to come as possible) to trump those of his co-stars, but frankly, Harris' admittedly tension-inducing contribution can rightly be perceived as completely minimal when compared and contrasted to Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike's career-defining turns in their respective leading roles. Whereas the former soon-to-be-Batman probably never had anything to worry himself about for the immediate future given his multi-film contract with Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment, in being bestowed with the character of Amy Elliot-Dunne, a woman whose sudden disappearance forces Affleck's curiously detached Nick to re-evaluate those decisions which brought him to this point, Pike had everything to play for and more besides, and again, so as not to divulge what those wise enough to seek the film out can expect from her construct, we'll only conclude by confirming that hers is one of the most electrifying and haunting performances we've seen in 2014 (and in this decade so far, for that matter). These two players elevate every single sequence in which they appear to new levels of drama, provoking unrelenting tension on the part of their viewership yet effortlessly charming the socks off of their beholders from the get-go in a manner that's downright enviable.
Such is the traditional structure of the vast majority of critical reviews on the web that readers would be forgiven for assuming that by this late stage in our verdict, we've already covered the greatest asset Fincher and company have to offer here, yet they'd be sorely mistaken. In fact, we've saved the best for last. Remember how Inside Llewyn Davis, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes each toyed with the notion of implementing a circular structure in the somewhat futile (save for Dawn, perhaps) hope of demonstrating the extent to which the audience's understanding of and engagement with the plights of their protagonists could simultaneously broaden their perspective on shots and motifs glimpsed in the opening moments of their respective narratives? Gone Girl accomplishes this immensely rare feat with tangible ease, leaving its competitors in the dust through the profoundly impactful use of its devastating (if occasionally mishandled) twists, its Oscar-deserving leads and its generically transcendent screenplay, all of which serve not so much to illuminate or clarify the purposefully ambiguous representation of one of the most fascinating constructs to have graced our screens this year as to further complicate matters. Not since Mr. Lecter made his iconic début in The Silence of the Lambs have we found ourselves so uncertain, nay, terrified of the next action a singular character might take were we to see their arc progress further after the credits rolled, nor has our inability to do so seemed more liberating from an interpretive standpoint.