Director: David Fincher
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 anniversary scavenger hunt clues. This film was not only a near-perfect novel-to-film adaptation and even-closer-to-perfect collaboration between Fincher and Gillian Flynn (who wrote the screenplay based on her own book– which helped immensely in transferring the novel’s dark tone) but this is also one of Fincher’s most sophisticated and polished films– an appropriately stylish, impeccably paced, cynical and smart noir about media and marriage and the toxicity inherent in both.
While some details of Flynn’s novel about Amy Elliott Dunne, wife of Nick Dunne gone missing on their fifth wedding anniversary, are understandably lacking in Fincher’s adaptation, the essentials are all there somewhere– vividly brought to life, intelligently condensed and reworked, so that fans and non-readers alike can appreciate the essence of the novel. And honestly, I didn’t find myself missing anything that was left out, and Flynn found a way to convey many things in a shorter span of time without rushing, and translate them for a visual medium without forsaking some of her most affecting language.
The casting was also amazing, as I’d hoped: Affleck was both charming and alarmingly smug as Nick, and Pike gave a standout performance as Amy. Her voice carried the twisted persona Amy has in the book in a way that no one else’s could have, I don’t think. And the look in her eyes conveys even more– delusion, conviction, joy and pain (real and fake). She embodies Amy– one of the most complicated literary characters I personally have ever encountered– with an eerie sense of ease. Even Neil Patrick Harris as ex-boyfriend Desi and Tyler Perry as lawyer Tanner Bolt played their parts to campy perfection.
I think what makes the film a success though is that even I– someone who has read the book– was shocked and surprised by twists that I should have seen coming. Something about Fincher’s sense of timing and style combined with Flynn’s script made the twists fresh and effective even if you’re expecting them. The way one scene in particular (which I won’t disclose) is edited– flashes of a spoiler-riddled event separated by flashes of black, as if a film reel were damaged or skipping– will sicken and chill you to the bone, and if it doesn’t, then surely something else in the film will. For one thing, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross– working with Fincher for the third time here– have created a score that is basically the novel if set to music; it is dark, brooding, and at times, absolutely mesmerizing. And as much of a fan as I am of Fincher’s characteristic style, I feel like he used it more in service of the novel than to be self-indulgent; he experimented more while also drawing less attention to his blue-and-yellow hues, giving more attention instead to exploring these mysterious characters and already-unhappy-enough themes.
I also think those themes were more clearly accentuated in the film– whether it’s due to Affleck’s oft-mentioned star text (being a celebrity formerly haunted and hounded by the media), or simply the way film depicts and incorporates such media, the importance of all that media-manipulation and hype is emphasized somewhat more than I felt it was in the book. But I will say that the cynicism about marriage is intact and as brutal as ever; the film’s editing, replete with flashbacks and Amy’s poetic, problematic journal-voiceovers, forms a similar structure to the novel (his, her’s and their’s) and makes the trajectory of happy marriage to miserable one a bleak and fascinating journey, indeed.
I do think the film’s denouement– though also faithful to the novel– didn’t translate quite as well as it could have. It’s the only part of the film whose pacing felt a little awkward, but no less effecting emotionally. It is a conclusion that will nevertheless, like the rest of the film, stay with you. And that is one significant and impressive similarity between text and movie– it is rare for a book that is so intelligent and thought-provoking and disturbing to be all those things in its film version. And for that alone, this film is a must-see for Gone Girl’s readers. But for those who haven’t read the book, the film is still a twisty and stomach-churning tale that is perhaps Fincher’s most eloquent and thematically mature work. It will drag you in, tease you and spit you out– shaken but satisfied on nearly every level.