"I thought writers hated clichés."
With his third film, Fight Club, David Fincher proved to be a master director of book adaptations, a skill he's now honed on four subsequent adaptations. In fact, fans of the director would have to agree that his only misstep since 1999 was 2002's Panic Room, a film which he basically made as a director for hire. For his sixth book adaptation, Fincher decided to tackle another recent bestseller. What makes Gone Girl so intriguing is not just the fact that he's working for the first time from a script penned by the book's author, but that he's adapting a work written by a woman, Gillian Flynn. Would this director, known for his hyper-masculine sensibilities, be able to bring to life a book so beloved by women everywhere? Read on to find out...
On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike) seem to have drifted apart in irreparable ways. Rather than spend time with his wife prior to his shift at the bar they co-own, Nick spends some time alone, leaving Amy in the house by herself, the same way she spends most every day. A call from a neighbor prompts Nick to return home, only to find signs of a struggle and no sign of Amy. Two local detectives (Kim Dickens & Patrick Fugit) question Nick about the events leading up to Amy's disappearance, and Nick is soon in over his head with falsifications and half-truths, making him the prime suspect.
Nick's only confidant is his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon), who believes Nick is innocent, but also knows that he's not being forthcoming with her. The events of the present are juxtaposed with Amy's diary entries painting a picture of marital bliss that slowly devolves into deception and fear of the man she loves so dear. As Nick tries in vain to prove his innocence, digging up any potential leads he can, including an old boyfriend (Neil Patrick Harris) whose relationship with Amy seems equally mysterious. With nowhere left to turn, Nick is forced to participate in Amy's annual tradition of sending Nick on a treasure hunt of their past year together, hoping it will reveal the clues he so desperately seeks, and eventually clear his name.
Whether you're going into the film having read the book or not, my sneaking suspicion is that most audiences will abhor this film. It holds a mirror up to the modern marriage in such a way that will disturb and linger with viewers long after it is over. Having read the book, I can appreciate the streamlining that Flynn was able to do to her story, and most especially for the humor that manages to seep into every crack of this pitch black narrative. It is incredibly well realized and pulls no punches, making for one of the more unsettling movie going experiences in some time, though I have no doubt that those who liked the book will also like the movie. It's intense when it needs to be, light when you don't think it could be, and overall a scathing indictment of the sacrifices people make to remain in a committed relationship.
While his touch remains surprisingly light as a director, the little moments that Fincher manages to weave into the film make it unmistakably of a part with his unique mind. The second time we see Nick in the film, he's carrying the board game Mastermind under his arm, subconsciously tipping the audience in a particular direction. That he follows this with stunning revelations about Nick's overall incompetence is only further proof of the fun he's having leading you in one direction, only to strand you a moment later. One might even go so far as to mistake such trickery as contempt for the audience, but the sadistic glee with which Fincher misdirects and misleads will be immense fun for those who have read the book.
If you haven't read the book, I would only caution you not to make your mind up too early. The way that the film's first act plays out is full of all manner of chicanery, and having your heart set on something is only going to lead to heartbreak in this story. The film's second act is its strongest, with revelations coming fast and furious, and the film's pace taking on the momentum of a runaway train. The third act, however, is where the film becomes transcendent. It's going to aggravate viewers and even some fans of the book, who may not like the additions Flynn and Fincher made, but it really drives home the film's themes in all the best ways. The book's ending is intact, for those who didn't care for it, but my suspicion is that those who felt that way weren't ready to embrace such naked truths about the very nature of relationships. Never before has a bleak ending been hammered home with such joy.
As for the performances, they are rock solid, top to bottom. This is the role that Ben Affleck was born to play; The conniving, good-looking, unappreciative dimwit who tries so hard to be a nice guy that he ends up alienating his most staunch allies. As one character remarks, it's in his marrow, and the ease with which he plays Nick gives one pause at both how naturally it comes and how well he nails it. Rosamund Pike truly lives up to the "amazing" qualifier her character's been saddled with her entire life. Simply labeling this a great performance would downgrade how absolutely perfect she is in every regard, making every facial expression, tic, gesture, and mannerism land with unrivaled authority. This is truly a "star is born" moment.
The supporting cast is equally fantastic, with Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens adding the best support by far. The biggest surprise, however, is how good Tyler Perry is in the role of Nick's high-priced attorney. As someone who's never thought much of Perry, as an actor or as a personality, I am happy to eat crow and say that he seems born to be in front of the camera. It's a thoughtful performance, every bit as calculated and disciplined as the rest of his oeuvre seems to be the opposite. It almost seems to go without saying that the work of cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, editor Kirk Baxter, and composers Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross is top notch, but the way Fincher's creative team works together makes the film that much more incredibly to look at and listen to.
Flynn and Fincher are a match made in heaven, if only because Flynn knows so well how to craft a story that plays into all of Fincher's strengths, and vice versa. While it's certainly the least "Fincher-esque" movie that he's made since Panic Room, it's equally satisfying to see him work so well in untested waters. The film is going to be a tough sell, and those who didn't like the book will find all of their same issues with it intact here. Those willing to hear and see harsh truths about themselves played out masterfully on the big screen, however, are going to find a film that both disturbs and entertains in equal measure, and often within the same breath.
Gone Girl is one of the most wholly satisfying movies made in the last year, and I am literally giddy with anticipation to talk about it with others, particularly those who don't like it; And I suspect they will be legion.
GO Rating: 4.5/5