Gone Girl Review
"'Til death do us part"
Let’s get this out of the way: I’m a big fan
of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl
. I read it in a few days, shoved it into as many of my family and friends’ hands as I could, discussing its violent twists with everyone after they’d finished. It’s a water-cooler novel if ever there was one. I also happen to adore David Fincher. He’s directed two of my favorite movies of the last decade (The Social Network
and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
) and out-right one of my favorite movies of all-time (Fight Club
It’s with great trepidation that I begin to untangle my thoughts on his adaptation of Flynn’s searing bestseller. It’s just as effective in its final stance on the status of modern marriage and media blood-lust, but the path it blazes to that final goal, while truthful, is never as out-and-out thrilling as its source material.
But, if nothing else, it’s faithful. On the morning of Nick Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary, his wife – Amy Elliot-Dunne – goes missing. And then things get worse. A maelstrom of an investigation brews, most of America and the cops thinking Nick was involved, and odd little clues linked to the couple’s anniversary begin to pop up, painting Nick in an even worse light.
The movie’s structure is taken nearly literally from the novel, with Flynn adapting her own story for the big screen. The first hour-or-so has the cops in a scramble, Nick constantly spewing I didn’t do it
’s to anyone who will listen, and the audience right in the palm of its hand.
It’s this first half I found myself most confused. Ben Affleck as Nick is solid; he’s the smarmy, laid-back middle-aged guy he is in the book. Rosamund Pike as Amy is nicely cast with an unknown blank-slate for the masses to ponder over. She’s awe-inspiring, sure-footed, engaging, and utterly captivating. It’s scenes when they’re together, mostly in flashbacks, that feel awkward. At any time in the movie before crucial details are known, each toe the line of plausibility so masterfully it's easy to simultaneously think oh he's innocent
and oh yeah he could kill his wife, sure
. Unfortunately in that opening act, they work best when they're apart.
It's even more unfortunate that their dialogue rushes out of their mouth so fast I was processing it three or four words after the fact, unable to enjoy Flynn’s nimbly skewering dialogue that I know is abundantly present. And the tone of those scenes – hushed, monochromatic and flat – felt like one of the only times Fincher’s direction appeared forced and staged, like a movie set and not a college party or flour-dusted back alley. Everywhere else Fincher's low-key, dramatic tone mixed with the source material's black humor are like the final two pieces of a long forgotten puzzle. You kind of don't know any other way it could have been made.
On the other hand, the supporting cast is consistently solid. Kim Dickens as Detective Boney, while a bit younger than I imagined, is great. So are Tyler Perry as lawyer Tanner Bolt and Neil Patrick Harris as Amy's ex Desi Collings, both playing against type. A quick Scoot McNairy cameo as another ex of Amy's is succinct but chilling, thanks to important plot secrets he gets to unveil. Best of all is Carrie Coon (fans of The Leftovers
may know her as the best thing in that show - Nora Durst). She's quick, smart, looks exactly the part, and though she's saddled with some of the film's most ham-fisted lines, she handles the sometimes blunt dialogue the best of the bunch.
And then it takes a turn. Without getting into the weeds of spoiler territory, it’s as brilliant and head-scratching as it was originally meant to be. And it’s where the movie really comes into itself. Affleck’s Nick becomes a funny, meta reincarnation of the state of celebrity and how fast the pitchforks can still come out so long as there’s someone the public can yell “witch!” at. But, really, this is Pike’s movie. And there’s nothing else I can say about her, unfortunately. Just rest assured, if you’re a book fan, she absolutely nails every aspect of Amazing Amy.
Once it was all said and done, though, I couldn’t stop thinking: this worked better as a book. Flynn’s dialogue, most of which is utterly uproarious in written form, feels overly vulgar and superfluous said aloud. It also lacks a certain crackle in transition. I still attest that reading the novel requires the act of re-reading certain sections, the opportunity to go back and really inspect every line for hidden clues and meanings. In moving form, these characters (Nick especially) lose a bit of their wit and a lot of their cleverness. It’s a fact of the medium, and utterly unavoidable, but disappointing nonetheless.
There's particular shadings to the characters that dissipates as well. Each character in the novel, while some more visibly villainous and some not, are given their moments of justification, and you find yourself queasily agreeing with them despite yourself. The film, beyond that twist, is content to let the bad guys be bad and the good guys be good. It allows the audience to blame one side of the relationship for its hardships without forcing us to view it for what it is: a combined effort at self-destruction. It's giving us an easy pill to swallow where Fincher usually doesn't mind seeing us choke, and it's perhaps the movie at its most disappointing.
All that being said, Gone Girl
, for the uninitiated, is mind-blowing. Utterly grade-A, thrilling stuff. It’s like if someone gave Lifetime real money, actual movie stars, an amazing director, and a gore budget. It’s long – nearly two and a half hours – but one thing it never is, is boring. It doesn't flinch away from dissecting the wounds of long-term relationships, of the shifting power dynamics of marriage, and of the struggle to figure out how something so good can turn into something so caustic. It’s ponderous, slow even, in the time it takes to unfurl all of its threads, to truly explain to you everything that’s actually been going on the whole time.
But when it does, it really sticks the landing. You won’t be wondering for as long as you think you will be about who did what to Amy, and that’s the movie’s greatest sleight-of-hand: it tricks you into thinking it’s one thing, but kind of becomes something else entirely. Which is apt, since its greatest metaphor is of masks. The masks we put on to other people for cultural pastime, to throw stones for the sake of it, to burn people at the stake because the vast majority claims their guiltiness. And the masks we wear ourselves, hiding who we are from, most of the time, those we love most. Fincher's chilling, clinical aesthetic is just another mask on top of it all, and it fits like a glove.
And it all leads to one of the single most jaw-dropping, eye-covering, sickeningly bravura film moments in recent memory that had my screening in visual and auditory tantrums. It’s the one time the movie really makes its case for working better in motion than on paper. It’s so sure of itself; so forceful in making you come to terms with these characters in this moment, utterly uncaring of what you think about it. It’s a small slice of transcendence in two and a half hours, and it’s totally worth the price of admission, I just wish the movie as a whole would have followed in that scene’s sure-footed footsteps.