(MA15+) 4.5 out of 5.
Director: David Fincher.
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Tyler Perry, Patrick Fugit, Neil Patrick Harris.
DAVID Fincher loves a good mystery, and no one does a mystery quite like him.
Take the depraved killer thriller Seven, or the methodical search-for-a-psycho Zodiac, or the highly effective if ultimately redundant American remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - all three of these films have been not only intense whodunnits, but also mesmerising journeys to the dark side that unravel with equal amounts of dread and intrigue.
Add to this collection Gone Girl, another gut-clenching mystery that doesn't so much unravel but rather corkscrew its way through some delicious plot twists.
The credit for this goes to Gillian Flynn, adapting her own novel into a rivetingly kinked screenplay.
It centres on the disappearance and suspected murder of pretty Baltimore housewife Amy Dunne (Pike) and the increasing suspicion that Nick (Affleck) may have been responsible.
The ensuing media circus and police investigation raise more and more questions, as Gone Girl becomes less about the who and more about the how and why.
Perhaps more interesting is what all these queries say about its many themes, such as the nature of marriage and our dreams and goals, and what happens when they don't go to plan, plus there's a disturbing insight into the power of the media and the potential darkness that exists behind the closed doors of a seemingly happy home.
It's Flynn's plotting that takes the cake, but it's Fincher's direction that bakes it to perfection. Even though much of the film takes place in the sunny outdoors of suburbia or similarly everyday settings, there's an ominous tone that Fincher invokes with ease.
He's ably assisted by regular scorers Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch, who turn in their most discordant soundtrack to date, which is predominantly good and aids the sense of dread but unfortunately threatens to overpower the dialogue at times.
It would all be for nought with the wrong cast. Fortunately, we have Affleck in career best form, which some would say is damning him with faint praise, but if you've ever doubted Affleck's talents, this is the movie that will change your mind. His naturalistic but nuanced performance is Oscar-worthy.
As is Pike's, who deserves to graduate to the A-list with her multi-faceted turn as Amy. No longer will she be written about as a forgettable Bond girl in a terrible 007 film, unless it's to remind you how far she's come when she starts collecting awards for performance in Gone Girl.
Dickens, Coon and Fugit are also good, Perry adds some much-needed tension-relief, while Harris is the only weak link in what is a blissfully small role.
Aside from Harris and some occasional issues with the score, Gone Girl's only other downside is its length. For much of its two-and-a-half hours there is no sense that things are dragging on to long, and it's only late into the final act that you wonder where it's all going and how long it will take you to get there.
Fortunately, a gob-smacking ending will leave you knowing it was all worthwhile.
Is Gone Girl on the same level as Fincher's flawless masterpieces such as Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac and The Social Network? Not quite, but it's damned close.