David Fincher is often regarded as one of the finest auteurs of our generation, having been responsible for some truly dark and twisted films such as Se7en, Zodiac, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. So, when it was announced that his latest film would be an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl, everyone was at once skeptical and intrigued.
I consider the book to be one of my favorites of all time. A scathing examination of romanticism and media manipulation, the book lends itself perfectly to Fincher’s stylistics. Much buzz and anticipation has been spreading for this film, and let me just say this. If you’re a fan of Fincher or of the original book, you likely won’t be disappointed. If not, results may vary. From a personal standpoint, I consider this to be as perfect an adaptation to such a great book as I could ever have hoped. Few films this year have been nearly as gripping as this one.
However, this is a tough film to talk about without diving into major spoiler territory. So because of this, if you have not read the book, or seen the film, I’ll leave you with my thoughts that it is a fantastic addition to David Fincher’s filmography, because for the purposes of this review, everything beyond this point will be spoiling huge chunks of the story.
With that said, let’s begin…
On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) reflects on his marriage to Amy (Rosamund Pike). The two of them are former New York writers laid off a couple years back, and now residing in the suburbs of Missouri. Nick runs a local bar with his twin sister (Carrie Coon), while Amy keeps herself busy however she can. Upon returning home, Nick finds his house to be a mess, and Amy having mysteriously vanished. As the local police become involved into the investigation of the disappearance, including the watchful eye of Detective Boney (Kim Dickens), events build upon each other, and paranoia and suspicion blow through the roof, as the cracks in Nick’s stories start to emerge, and eventually he becomes a target of media scrutiny.
Much like Fincher’s The Social Network, as perfectly fitting his direction is applied, Gone Girl is head to toes a writer’s film, benefitting from Gillian Flynn herself making a seamless transition from page to screen, especially in the case of her characters. At the forefront is Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck in a career best and perfectly cast performance. Nick is something of a bratty child in the body of an adult man. In spite of what smarts he may have, his character is also passive, spoiled, and prone to fits of rage that seem akin to a temper tantrum. This level of immaturity is especially showcased with an affair he’s been having with a vapid college student (Emily Ratajkowski), and a despicable relief for Amy’s disappearance. This often pits him in heated conflict with his no-nonsense, yet protective sister Margo, played by Carrie Coon in a commanding and often hilariously deadpan supporting performance.
But with that said, Fincher’s direction is still a star of the film in its own right, especially when balancing out the film’s overall tone. For the first hour of the film, it’s painted as a straightforward mystery with a troubled love story edge, as present day sequences are often intercut with flashbacks via Amy’s diary. In these instances, Fincher’s DP of choice Jeff Cronenweth tends to frame these segments with intimate lighting and attention to visual detail, painting them with an appropriate romanticism.
However, once the second hour kicks in, that’s when the film completely throws out any pretense of romanticism. When it is revealed to the audience that Amy is very much alive, and responsible for framing Nick for murder, is when the film takes on a truly unique life. Much has been made of Amy’s character and Rosamund Pike’s performance, and the film truly delivers on those tall orders. Pike has to walk a very tricky line between her character’s personas, one minute a once in a lifetime dream woman, and the next completing her evolution into a vengeful sociopath almost alike the elaborate mindset of a serial killer. If someone wrongs her, she feels no remorse with what massive lengths she’ll go for payback. It’s that exploit of likability and romanticism that highlights the film’s spectacular examination of media saturation and emotions overpowering factual evidence, such as in scenes featuring Missi Pyle as a thinly veiled portrait of Nancy Grace. The scenes where Amy sets up her elaborate plans are simply a masterstroke of filmmaking (including allowing editor Kirk Baxter a chance to stretch his creativity and masterful pacing), but Pike is undoubtedly the MVP of the entire film, and likely to remain one of the year’s best performances.
Back on Nick’s perspective, once he finally puts the pieces together, he begins diving into Amy’s past and finding figures of her early life, such as Scoot McNairy in a small but crucial cameo as Tommy O’Hara, a victim of Amy’s manipulation now labeled a sex offender. The most prominent figure we come across is Amy’s ex-boyfriend Desi Collings, played by an unsettling Neil Patrick Harris. We first meet Desi when Nick confronts him one night, but when Amy is left with no other options but to turn to him, he becomes a much bigger player in the film. Harris is often known best for playing Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother, and seeing him here cleverly subverts that persona. From what we see of Desi, he is an unnerving character with ambiguous intentions. He often alternates suddenly and smoothly between charming and affectionate, to clingy, obsessive and controlling. He promises to Amy that he’s nothing like Nick, but with so much uncertainty, we can never be sure that he won’t succumb to those inhumane urges.
If the film sounds very dark from what I’ve described, please know that this isn’t always the case, as the film is also very funny. It’s not traditionally comic by any means, but more comic by way of deadpan and twisted satire. In one of the more interesting casting decisions, Tyler Perry appears as Nick’s smug and tenacious lawyer, Tanner Bolt. Perry is afforded some especially hysterical moments that pick apart media, such as one segment where he repeatedly flings gummi bears at Nick’s face until he can tell his story of Amy with sincerity (at least on the surface, and not let his disdain show) before a big interview. The satire in these sequences where newscasters and interviewees feed into what people want to hear, as opposed to the honest truth, perfectly capture the ongoing trends of today and the blissful ignorance of gaping logic.
Once the film reaches its final stretches, in which Amy returns home to Nick, it also brings another excellent theme full circle, that being of spousal manipulation. Having painted herself as a far more likable person than Nick in the eyes of the public, Amy uses this to her advantage to keep herself safe, but also realizes just how much the two of them are perfect for one another. It’s clearly meant to make commentary on abusive relationships. No matter how poisonous and scarring the conditions may be, especially where two people drip with venom and disdain for one another, they still find some will to stay together. Tanner Bolt candidly calls them “The most F’d up couple I’ve ever seen”, and that couldn’t be any more truthful. No matter how much misery the two of them may cause, they truly deserve each other. Lastly, the film’s ambiance is also set very well by composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Just don’t expect these compositions to stand apart as a standalone listen.
And that brings my analysis of Gone Girl to a close. The film sits comfortably with the very best films of David Fincher’s career, and sees him taking on Gillian Flynn’s source material with flying colors. Every decision behind this film is a match made in Heaven, and the excellent thematic commentary, matched by the outstanding ensemble cast (including Rosamund Pike), make it a fascinating film throughout. To say that it’s one of the very best films of the year doesn’t do it quite enough justice, and if Fincher’s last two movies are anything to go by, its nuances should be even more rewarding on repeat viewings.
***** / *****