To adopt any literary work into a feature film is no easy task. I have discussed this in length in past reviews that can be found here and here. There are so many factors to choose. What goes in? What gets cut? If it’s based on a work written in the first-person from what perspective will your movie be told? There is just no absolute way to adopt a book. The best a filmmaker can do is hope to create a work that is all their own and keep true to what the source material intended to convey in some way, shape, or form. The best adaptations successfully do this while also bringing something new to the table. The truth is no such thing as a perfect adaptation because the perfect adaptation is the one we create in our heads whenever we read a book.
Needless to say, I went into film version of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel, Gone Girl, with some reservations. I finally got around to reading the book this past summer and absolutely loved it. It’s marketed as a mystery centered around the disappearance of a woman and the immediate fall out, but turns out being much more. It is a biting statement on relationships and marriage, it is a bleak satire of mass media and its insatiable bloodlust, and it is just a flat-out thrilling page turner. It’s a book demands conversation and actually lives up to the hype surrounding it. It’s told from the perspective of both the missing woman’s husband and the woman herself (from past diary entries). The process of bringing this sucker to the screen must have been killer as the main selling point and source of tension in the book is that you never know who is telling the truth for almost half of the time you spend reading it.
Who better to bring such a great yet confounding work to life than a guy who has made a career of adopting stories that are labeled unfilmable from the get-go? The one and only David Fincher. This is the man who brought Fight Club to life, made F. Scott Fitzgerald’s super duper short story into the 2 and a half hour Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and successfully adapted Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for the second time without using the original Swedish version as a crutch. He is my favorite director working today, partly due to his fascination with the ugliest and most cynical natures of the modern world all while shooting it beautifully. So let’s dig in to the director’s latest novel turned movie offering
WARNING: I am going to do my best to avoid spoilers as there is a mighty big one. As a result, I have to be very vague while describing certain aspects of the film so if there is a part that is confusing, blame people that have not read the book or seen the movie. And for those who have not done either and I accidentally spoil something for you, please relate your complaints here.
“On the occasion of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne reports that his wife, Amy, has gone missing. Under pressure from the police and a growing media frenzy, Nick’s portrait of a blissful union begins to crumble. Soon his lies, deceits and strange behavior have everyone asking the same dark question: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?” – Twentieth Century Fox
Let me start off by saying this is a movie that looks to beat you down. By the time the credits roll, you will be horrified, depressed, and empty. This isn’t a complaint. It aims to heal you through the wounds and reexamine relationships as a whole. Flynn adopted the screenplay from her own novel and left in all the warts and all when it comes to her characters and critiques. I’ve been reading a few “think-pieces” lately that call the movie sexist and misogynistic. These complaints may have some merit if the work was written by a man, but I agree with review Nordling when he describes the film as “FULL-BLOWN MISANTHROPIC.” You can almost taste the utter displeasure the filmmakers have for mankind when topics like marriage and the media are brought up and dissected.
I understand that not everyone will see this as a selling point. You may be asking, “Tyler, why would I want to feel bad at the end of a movie?” This is how true satire works, my nameless friend. It pokes holes in the things we revere and through the cracks we see the ugly and often unpleasant truth. By putting the train wreck that is the Dunne’s marriage on full display, Fincher and Flynn are urging us to look at our own relationships. Can a person ever be themselves truly when they are in a relationship? It’s a depressing truth we all hit at some point. That such a beautiful thing that stemmed from passion can turn so ugly. That two people that, on the surface, appear happy and in love can be capable of doing so much damage to one another. As Nordling writes, “Gone Girl is a horror film where we are witness to the possibilities of that horror in our own lives.” In other words, this may not be the best date movie.
Marriage isn’t the only thing taking hits as the film sets its sights on the media as well. I hate in movies when they attempt to use the “media frenzy” as a plot point but fail to actually have their journalists act or talk like actual journalists do in the real-world whenever some sort of controversy goes on. This film goes out of its way to show the morbid circus that this is the mass media. Much like Ouroboros, it continually and selfishly consumes without ever getting full. There is no interest in the truth. The only goal is to get the headline. The bloodier, the better. Journalists here aim to rattle the cages, and by doing so get a leg up on the competition. Fincher is great when he loves his subject, but he is incredible when it pisses him off.
As a bleak as this film gets, Gone Girl nestles perfectly into Fincher’s film canon. After all this is the same guy that has ended his movies like this…
The lightest thing he has done thus far to see an actual release was 2008’s Curious Case of Benjamin Button and even that movie was a tough pill to swallow. The funny thing is that as dark a path this movie follows it is incredibly funny. Black comedy is a tough thing to do right. You can’t half ass it. You must commit to morbid topics and successfully find something to laugh at about them. I recently watched another black comedy (also based on a beloved novel) called Filth.
I loved this movie as well (which may say something about me as a person) and it does something similar to Gone Girl that makes it great double whammy of pitch black comedies that will hurt your very soul. Both films sport leads that are utterly despicable but completely watchable and even engaging. Here we have two leads: Ben Affleck as the jockey and douchey Nick Dunne, and Rosamund Pike as the titular “Gone Girl,” Amy Dunne. The movie would fail if it wasn’t anchored by these two characters and their respective actors hit the ball out of the preverbal park. Affleck does some of the best work he has ever done as an actor here. He brings a soul and likability to the character that was absent in the novel. Sidenote: There is a scene in which Nick complains about the flip-flop nature of the media and the public in that they love him, then hate him, then love him again, only to hate him once more. Funny that this mirrors Affleck’s own life to a tee. Easy to see what drew the actor to the part.
The real star of the show here is Pike, who has been doing solid work for years now and is finally given the star-making performance she deserves.
To reveal why she is so good would be a spoiler, but needless to say I fully expect to see more of her after this.
The supporting cast is equally great with not a bad casting in the bunch. Seriously, Fincher cast the hell out of this thing. Special shout-out to Carrie Coon (HBO’s The Leftovers‘ resident scene-stealer) as Nick’s sister Margo, who provides the film with its biggest laughs. Another thing I’d like to point out the inclusion of two actors that would stink of stunt-casting in a lesser director’s hands: Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris. Now, I am a huge fan of NPH but he wouldn’t be my first choice as the creepy ex-bf of Amy he plays here. The guy is just too lovable, and the less said about Tyler Perry the better. But against all odds, but men are fantastic here. Perry plays Nick’s superstar lawyer, and brings some much needed humor and intelligence to the role. Harris, in possibly his most controversial role to date, is outstanding as well and is the opposite of Barney Stinson here. Bonus points to anyone who recognizes Emily Ratajkowski, who plays a woman important to Nick’s past. She made a name for herself last summer by appearing in a little music video you may remember. (PS she is the only one with charisma in it, and the only one who seems to be at least pretending to have fun in the almost joyless video.)
As ugly as this movie gets tonally, it is beautifully shot. Fincher vet Jeff Croneweth handles cinematography duties. Each shot is delectable and the guy is a shoe-in for best you-know-what come Oscar time. Also let’s talk about that Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross score. The duo have done wonders with Fincher before and once again deliver a chilling yet funky score that will haunt your dreams for days after you hear it. Their music provides a much needed tensity to scenes that would be utterly awkward without them.
In the end, this is a movie that is going to generate a lot of discussion. Some will hate it, calling it an ugly and hopeless film, whereas others will see the jem that it is. Gone Girl is a cynical, sharp razor to the face of year theaters were almost completely dominated by miscellaneous fluff, and I loved every second of it. We have one of the year’s best on deck, people. Pay attention.