Gone Girl (2014) – Review

With reservations, I cracked into Gone Girl the moment I heard David Fincher was turning it into a film.  The book is excellent; a twisty, turny thriller full of misdirection and suspense which by the end, like all the best books, leaves the reader completely satisfied while still wanting more.  My reservations stemmed from the knowledge that it was such a highly regarded piece of fiction with unexpected plot turns, and there was a worry that the film would lose some of its impact if I already knew what was coming.  For that very reason, author Gillian Flynn reportedly wrote a draft of the screenplay with a different ending to keep the readers interested.  It didn’t make the final shooting script, but it quickly becomes apparent upon watching the film that that’s something to be thankful – not pined – for.  In hindsight, there was never anything to worry about.  The film is every bit as engaging and gripping as the book, retaining all of the misdirection, all of the suspense, all of the tension, wit and surprise, because if there’s one sure-fire way to make a great adaptation of a great book, it’s to get David Fincher to direct.  A quick glance at his CV gives credence to that.

Another way, of course, is to have the author pen the script, and it can’t be underestimated how much of a favour Flynn has done the film by taking on such duties.  Where adaptations most regularly fail is in the distinction between essential and superfluous – the screenwriter may feel one thing needs to make the film while the author, or, indeed, the director, feels it can be omitted, and vice versa – but with Flynn being both, she’s able to fine-tune her lusty, chronologically shifting story for a screen medium without leaving anything essential out; plot, tone, nuance or otherwise.  Fincher’s clever enough to leave her to it and focus on his duties; pacing the thing, framing perfect shots, and coaxing terrific performances from his actors.  With these two things in place, and bolstered by a superlative cast, Gone Girl immediately leaps ahead of many of its contemporaries – even the excellent Fincher-remade The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo – to become one of the best thrillers of the last few years, and probably the best book-to-film adaptation since The Lord Of The Rings.

The film serves as something of an allegory for propaganda in the media, and the excessive lengths the tabloids will go to latch onto the trauma of people’s lives and create pseudo celebrities, but the real power of Gone Girl comes from simple, strong storytelling; something of which we can always be guaranteed from this efficacious director.  On the one hand we have a straightforward story of a missing wife told with confidence and guile; on the other, something far more interesting and convoluted unfolds as the narrative contorts around itself and deftly dropped pieces of information begin to reveal themselves in compelling ways.  It becomes apparent that something far more insidious is going on, only we’re not quite sure what, but every step of the way we’re kept carefully on track by Fincher’s comforting guide.

Ben Affleck has rarely been better than as Nick Dunne, a man – perhaps widower – unravelling as he faces increasing media scrutiny over the disappearance of his wife, Amy (Pike).  With Batman just around the corner, he looks mid-buff with just enough excess to befit a character in a mid-life slump, with world-weary eyes and a propensity to smile at the wrong times and speak to the wrong people.  It’s a subversive and nuanced performance that uses expressions as much as words to lead the audience on, which plays right into the idea of the book that as the narrative progresses, we’re never quite sure whether to trust him or not.  The same and more can be said of Rosamund Pike, whose performance is extraordinary and unpredictable at every turn.  Talk of Oscars may not be too far off; these are the types of performance that really deserve attention.  They’re smart, subtle and powerful without ever being blatant or overt, with the added impetus of playing less than reputable characters over disease-stricken and/or historical figures.

Topped off with whip-smart jest and some gorgeously dim cinematography from Fincher regular Jedd Cronenweth, at its best Gone Girl hearkens to the finest Hitchcockian thrillers; a frantically calm neo-noir thriller with the subtlety of Rear Window, the voyeurism of Vertigo and the subversion of Psycho, with a trademark gritty yet glossy Fincher veneer.  Not everything works perfectly; there’s a slight loss of tension in the third act, after the final reveal, where in place of creeping silence and laconic interactions is a strangely jaunty soundtrack and rushed, resolute dialogue as it tries to wrap everything up (it is bordering on two and a half hours by that point), but for something that isn’t quite perfect to be the worst thing about the film, that’s not bad going.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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