‘Gone Girl’: A nicely twisted mystery

One, two, three, four, five, six … I’m going through the roster of characters in “Gone Girl,” and I’m up to a half-dozen characters who at one point do something that makes you want to scream “You IDIOT!” at the screen.

Seven. Make that seven. Which is also the title of one of director David Fincher’s earlier films. (To be precise: it was stylized as “Se7en.”) The enormously talented Fincher is the meticulous stylist who also directed “Fight Club,” “Panic Room,” “Zodiac,” “The Social Network” and the Americanized version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” and I liked all of those films more than I liked “Gone Girl,” but I’m still recommending this film because it has some wildly entertaining twists and because it features one of Ben Affleck’s best performances.

‘Gone Girl’

This is a nutty film, and for the most part I mean that in a good way. Based on Gillian Flynn’s hugely popular novel of the same name (and adapted by Flynn for the big screen), “Gone Girl” is a keen look at the media frenzy that occurs around “heater” criminal cases, a melancholy examination of a storybook romance that crashes and a mystery that takes a crazy turn, and then a crazier turn, and then …

Well. If you’ve read the book you know. If you haven’t, I’ll do my best not to spoil it here.

Rosamund Pike, not my favorite actress what with the wide-eyed expressions and the sometimes monotone line readings, steps up here and delivers a fine performance as Amy Dunne, a magazine writer who’s famous not for her work but because she’s “Amazing Amy,” the inspiration for a series of books written by her parents.

Ben Affleck is perfectly cast as Amy’s husband, Nick Dunne, himself a writer with a middling career. Nick’s a big, handsome, charming guy who’s just a little too self-aware of that charm, and a little too quick to latch onto Amy, who is beautiful and seemingly sweet and oh by the way has about a million bucks in a trust fund.

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Fincher tells the story of Nick and Amy’s courtship as a New York City fairy tale, complete with a kiss in a “sugar storm” as a bakery truck is unloaded. It’s gorgeously photographed, and it feels more like the end of a well-made romance than the beginning of something much more sinister.

Five years later, Nick and Amy are living in the financially depressed town of North Carthage, Missouri, where Nick runs a bar called The Bar, where his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon from HBO’s “The Leftovers”) is always ready with a drink and quip.

Margo is cute and funny and smart, and she adores Nick, to point where it’s creepy. When she finds out Nick’s been keeping secrets from her, she acts more like a spurned lover than a concerned sibling. It’s a tribute to Coon’s performance that “Go” is the most likable character in the film — though she does have her “YOU IDIOT!” moment, as do Nick and Amy, as well as a number of police investigators, the hotshot attorney played by Tyler Perry and Amy’s two ex-boyfriends.

Ah, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. On Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing and Nick is immediately the prime suspect. Kim Dickens is Detective Rhonda Boney, who’s suspicious about her initial suspicions, while Patrick Fugit (remember him as the kid in “Almost Famous”?) is ready to arrest Nick and start counting the days until he’s executed by lethal injection.

“Gone Girl” bounces back and forth from the investigation and the attendant media circus (Missi Pyle is a dead-on hoot as a Nancy Grace-type TV show host) to flashback scenes, with Amy narrating diary entries in which she describes the dissolution of the fairy tale. One day Nick is like a modern-day prince in the city; the next thing you know, he’s slouched on a sofa in Missouri, unemployed, drinking beer, playing video games and verbally and physically abusing Amy.

Oh yeah, and he’s also having a fling with a former student (Emily Ratajkowski aka Miss “Blurred Lines”) about half his age.

There’s so much more squeezed into the 149-minute running time, including Neil Patrick Harris as Desi Collings, who worshipped Amy when they were dating and still has a stalkeresque obsession with her some 20 years later. Desi is fabulously wealthy, but he’s the biggest nitwit in this story. Some of the scenes at Desi’s lake house defy even the lurid pulp logic of this material.

(Other subplots are like miniature film noirs unto themselves. I loved Lola Kirke’s performance as a chain-smoking, world-weary hottie living in a motel with a crummy pool and questionable clientele.)

Nick is the first to admit he’s not a good man, but for a long time we’re kept guessing as to whether he’s a mostly amiable dupe or a cold killer. From Affleck we see glimpses of vulnerability as well as displays of a fiery temper.

Some scenes are filmed in tones so gray you can feel the weight of life’s disappointments suffocating Nick and Amy. And even when it’s a sunny day, the yellows and reds on Fincher’s palette seem a bit overwhelming. The score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is nomination-worthy. The editing, with so many twists and turns and so many supporting characters needing their due, is without hiccups. And thankfully, there’s plenty of dark humor.

This story cannot be taken too seriously. It’s filled with bad people who sometimes pull off brilliant stunts — and then follow a stunt with an act of blatant stupidity. But it’s a thing of beauty watching them manipulate, stumble, recover, stumble again, and then …

More madness.

20th Century Fox presents a film directed by David Fincher and written by Gillian Flynn, based on her novel. Running time: 149 minutes. Rated R (for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language). Opens Friday at local theaters.

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