Synopsis: With his wife’s disappearance having become the focus of an intense media circus, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when it’s suspected that he may not be innocent.
Stars: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Carrie Coon, David Clennon
Director: David Fincher
Running Length: 149 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: I’ve been trying hard lately to catch up on my reading…especially with so many page to screen adaptations coming out in the next few months. Even more challenging is that I try to time my finishing of a book as close to the release date as possible so the elements of the story are still fresh in my mind. Recently, I finished the disappointing This Is Where I Leave You a few weeks before the slightly less disappointing film was released but with Gone Girl I was down to the wire, catching the film when the book’s pages were still warm from me blazing through them.
This actually helped me more than I could have ever dreamed because it afforded me the opportunity to pinpoint exactly where screenwriter Gillian Flynn improved upon her own novel. By combining characters or excising them all together, Flynn has tightened what was already a taut narrative…and the end result is a film as razor sharp as they come. Of course it helps that she had David Fincher as her director because he’s all about economical delivery, ready and willing to trim the fat to ensure his work is as lean and direct as can be.
That works well for Flynn’s tricky tale of marriage and murder where everyone seems to have a secret ready to be exploited. Her novel was a blockbuster hit when released in 2012 and it’s truly a wonder it made such a seamless transition to the screen, largely keeping its twists under wraps until the moment of impact. Even knowing where the film was heading, I was engaged enough that I was on the edge of my seat right along with those in the audience that weren’t prepared for the journey Flynn and Fincher were about to take us.
It’s 2012 and the morning of the fifth anniversary of Nick and Amy Dunne. Transplants from New York, they’ve been living in Nick’s Missouri hometown thanks to the economic downturn that saw both lose their jobs and reexamine their financial future. Instead of celebrating, however, Nick is plunged into a nightmare when he returns home to find Amy has seemingly vanished into thin air. As the police, media, friends, and family descend upon the town and start to examine the crime and, by proxy, the Dunne’s marriage we learn that some secrets won’t stay hidden for long.
Like the novel, the movie jumps between Nick’s present day narrative and Amy’s diary entries written from the time they met up until she goes missing that paint a different picture of the happy couple. So far the marketing of the film has kept Flynn’s surprising twists in check and you won’t get a spoiler out of me…but let’s just say that through some clever bits of storytelling the film is far from over just when you think you’ve reached the end.
As is typical with Fincher’s work, the casting is pretty spot-on even if several choices are quite different from the original novel. Ben Affleck (Argo) may not be the blond-haired tanned creation on the page but he’s wholly convincing as a husband on the edge, trapped by evidence that suggests he should be more concerned with his wife’s whereabouts than he appears to be. Same goes for Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day) as the vanished Amy who has an even more delicate balance to play. Pike’s always been an interesting actress but I was wondering if she was perhaps too chilly to play Amy, and boy was I wrong. Her steel gaze turns out to be a major advantage here and Pike handily swipes the movie away from her more famous co-star every chance she gets.
In supporting roles, Fincher scored with Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin sister caught between what she knows is true about her sibling and the evidence that suggests more and more he knows where his wife is. Another fine performance comes from Kim Dickens as a local cop assigned to the case with good instincts that she doesn’t quite know what to do with. Both Coon and Dickens represent Fincher thinking out of the casting box — here’s hoping their work elevates them as it should. Also, I should add as a longtime fan it’s also nice to see Sela Ward cameo as a scoop hungry television personality.
Surprisingly, Fincher makes two unfortunate mistakes with the casting of Neil Patrick Harris (A Million Ways to Die in the West) as a man from Amy’s past and Tyler Perry (Alex Cross) as Nick’s high-powered attorney. Harris seems too slight and off the mark for where the character needed to be, though admittedly he’s saddled with the least successful dialogue Flynn transported over from her book. Perry, meanwhile, looks positively giddy to be out of his Madea garb and into some power suits…though his unconvincing acting still borders on atrocious. These two distractions could be written off had they not been so pivotal to the story. Too bad.
At 149 minutes, I was worried the movie wouldn’t be able to keep its momentum going strong but Fincher has never met a film he couldn’t move along at a breathless pace. Like the book, the movie is pleasing enough for the first 45 minutes or so but really hits its stride around the hour mark before making a full out sprint to the finish line. There’s some devious work afoot here and it’s incredibly satisfying.
I realized about halfway through Gone Girl how starved I’d been for a sophisticated, adult thriller. Though it seemed to go out of style in the late 90s and been replaced by the political/espionage mystery fare Fincher has made his second bid (after 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) for its resurgence. When the story is so good, the lead performances so on the money, and the direction this precise, the bar has been raised again for any takers that wish to challenge themselves to rise to Fincher and Co.’s level.