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Gillian Flynn's terrific novel is in expert hands with Flynn as screenwriter, dramatically building to, well, we can't tell you. You'll thank us.

Gillian Flynn's twisty novel Gone Girl was a movie waiting to happen, practically smelling of popcorn with each compulsively turned page. It's less of a whodunit than a whodunwhat that's easier to spoil than egg salad at a picnic, so we'll tread lightly.

If you read the book, you'll be thrilled by David Fincher's movie, rife and lively with all the right deceptions. If you didn't, I envy your ignorance of Gone Girl's course.

Flynn gets a rare chance for a successful author to adapt her book for the screen, and that's the second-smartest choice made for this project. The first was hiring Fincher to direct, a filmmaker who at his best works with a clinical and cynical eye, perfect for Flynn's prose. It's a marriage made in heaven, presenting another stuck in hell. Or more accurately, Missouri.

That's where Nick and Amy Dunne moved from Manhattan after the recession cost their jobs as writers. Amy's trust fund, stockpiled by her parents' Amazing Amy books depicting a childhood she never had, is nearly depleted. Nick bought a break-even tavern, and Amy isn't a heartland woman. A once-dazzling couple begins to fizzle.

On their fifth anniversary Amy disappears, with signs of a struggle in their home. Naturally, Nick is suspected, and a media circus ensues, fueled by Amy's ersatz fame and Nick's apparent lack of concern.

From there, Gone Girl spins a dark and sexy mystery that Flynn masterfully pares down for Fincher to film. Everything necessary is here, for plot mechanics and reader satisfaction. She tightens that bothersome climax, while retaining its acrid impact. This is a remarkable case of a movie's quality matching the book's.

Fincher's casting is again impeccable. Ben Affleck provides the right balance of hunk and lunk for Nick, his blankness as an actor working in favor of a character designed to be inscrutable. The marvel here is Rosamund Pike as Amy, a complex bundle of secrets. Pike's superbness in Gone Girl can't be fully described without spoilers, but we'll get more chances through awards season.

Same for practically anyone from the supporting cast, each given time to shine. The showiest - Tyler Perry, Missy Pyle, Casey Wilson - support the story's digs at deathwatch media, the Nancy Graces filling time and pockets with this week's crime of the century. The sturdiest are Carrie Coon as Nick's sister, and Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit as detectives eyeing Nick.

The time shuffle of Flynn's novel, between the present and Amy's diary entries, is intact, and expertly edited by Kirk Baxter. Fincher occasionally usesthe conceit for dark humor, such as flipping from Nick's marriage proposal to his DNA swabbing, as if that's part of the vows. Gone Girl the book and now the movie is on one level a satire of "theprimal questions of any marriage," and the answers are chilling.

Gone Girl is a terrific movie, everything the book and its fans deserve. And what it deserves in return is the chance to surprise anyone who didn't read Flynn's book. Pass the popcorn; hold the egg salad.

Contact Steve Persall at or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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Gone Girl

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Missy Pyle, Casey Wilson, David Clennon, Lisa Banes, Emily Ratajkowski, Sela Ward

Screenplay: Gillian Flynn, based on her novel

Rating: R; one scene of bloody violence, sexual content, nudity, profanity

Running time: 149 min.

Grade: A