There are two kinds of people, those who go into Gone Girl having read the book and those who haven't. On my recent honeymoon in Africa, travelling on a truck, on a particularly long travel day I inhaled Gillian Flynn's crime thriller in one eight hour sitting. The ending incited such a strong reaction from me that I stood up from my seat, threw the book to the floor, implored one of my friends on the tour who'd read the book with a grunt "grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr," before retrieving it and swiftly frisbeeing it out of the window into the red cloud we cut through the dirt highway. Now despite that frustration, two things were undeniable; 1) Flynn is a writer to be ravenously absorbed from here on out and 2) director David Fincher is one of the only filmmaker's that could possibly do justice to source material. So viewing Gone Girl , which was also skilfully adapted by Flynn from her own novel, was merely to appraise what a master filmmaker like Fincher could do to adapt and elevate the material.
In the quiet Missouri town of Carthage, Nick Dunne's (Ben Affleck) wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) disappears in what looks like a kidnapping. With the entire town enlisted to help in the search by Nick and Amy's famous author parents Maybeth (Lisa Banes) and Rand (David Clennon) the scrutiny shakes an array of secrets and weirdos out of the woodwork. The public and the police begin to suspect that Nick is involved and with the help of his twin sister Margo (or 'Go' - Carrie Coon) he's forced to hire celebrity defender Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) to keep him away from the death penalty.
Affleck is perfectly cast. You can tell that he's reached a level of maturity as a filmmaker and as a performer that he's ready for a character like Nick Dunne. Dunne is good looking, confident, funny, but he's also a guy that on occasion you want to punch in the face. Fincher is acutely aware that the audience is not going to be able to distance themselves from their public perception of Affleck, and much like Paul Thomas Anderson and Tom Cruise in Magnolia, there's the feel of an actor that's as much manipulating your perception of who you think or believe that they are, as they are wrangling a character. And yet, while for chunks of the film this is the case, Affleck is given room to get to show the wounds of the psychological warfare he's endured with 'Amazing' Amy (Amy’s parents are famous authors who’ve written a fantasy version of her childhood called Amazing Amy).
For a guy consistently battered for being the antichrist of comedy, Perry's timing as Bolt was impeccable.Tanner Bolt leaps off of the screen; he's that kind of lawyer drawn to infamy, keen to get his hands on a client as tantalising as Nick Dunne (Affleck). Although Flynn's novel had a vein of dark humour, the film laughs in the face of the situation with brutal comedic honesty, almost all of which lies with Perry.
Carrie Coon's Go, is the sarcastic angel on her twin's shoulder, committed to his cause despite being faced with increasing likelihood that her brother is responsible for her sister in law's disappearance. Nick and Go's 'twin-ness' is denoted with such great subtlety. Turns of phrase and the same joke stream past like scenery from a passing car and while you watch Nick weather the battering of the media scrutiny and puts up walls of rage; Go pours out, feeling so loudly that she becomes the emotional barometer for the film.
*** HERE COME THE SPOILERS ***
*** YOU'VE BEEN WARNED ***
***DON'T DO IT IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE FILM OR READ THE BOOK***
*** YOU MANIAC, WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU?!***
Without mentioning the exact trajectory of the character it's extremely difficult to enunciate Pike's career defining performance, but watching her navigate Amy's peaks and troughs is astounding.
It's impossible to genuinely appraise Pike's revelatory turn as Amy without mentioning the twists and turns of the character. You've got fleeting impressions of Amy as the perfect loving and supporting wife, faced with a husband that's becoming increasingly distant and malicious, after beginning as the perfect man. But it's once you're faced with true depths of her manipulation as myopic drive to see Nick pay for his infidelity and failure as a husband that she ascends to unbelievable new heights. She’s mesmerising as her reptilian eyes or uncontrollably spurting of inner monologue aloud.
It's really no coincidence that each of the actors involved are being lauded for career defining (or making) turns under Fincher's assured direction. He's just as meticulous with working with his performers as he is to providing the detail with every other element of his direction.
Fincher opens Gone Girl by creating the textures of the Missouri setting that reeks of heat, dilapidation and a pervasive wilderness, perfect for concealment. These various impressions get a chance to play out juxtaposing Amy's diary and the investigation. The diary pours over the screen in a series of ill-defined memories coloured to convey their emotion. Nick and Amy's first kiss is composed like a snapshot of a fairy-tale inside a snow globe. Their conversation about the recession and the foreshadowing of the impending layoffs are had from their gunmetal grey cave of an apartment and the impressions of Nick’s (made-up) violence are the warm yellow of teeth plague. Even the credits of the film flash and slip away like tufts of cloud, you're left with the memories of players that you're implored to forget.
Flynn really must be commended for the subtle changes that she made to her own source material for the adaption. Trims to unnecessary characters and beats that are essential to the make-up of the book, devote more focus to the central storyline. The most inspired choice was definitely muting the malice of Desi Collings to overtly heighten the depths of Amy's madness. In the novel there are moments that the predicament that Amy's twisted herself into make you, even for mere seconds, empathise for Venus fly trap that she's lead herself into. The film though tweaks their relationship so that instead of being inside Amy's head, you're outside, seeing her loosening the facade. Great lines, where inner monologue leaps uncontrollably from her mouth, it feels like you're watching a majestic predator bare its teeth.
Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor (now three time Fincher collaborators after The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) bring their same deft and atmospheric score style to Gone Girl . Ross and Reznor definitely feel like they're dialled into the drastically different frequencies of the characters and they're able to successfully harmonise them together into a cohesive whole. There's more than one occasion that their score feels like it's making the audience's pulse or heartbeat audible as it's reacting to action on the screen.
You will not be disappointed. Gone Girl lives up to the hype. It’s one of the best films of the year and one of the best in Fincher's already intimidatingly great body of work.
[rating=4] and a half
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: Gillian Flynn (adapted from her novel of the same name)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, David Clennon, Lisa Banes, Missi Pyle, Emily Ratajkowski, Casey Wilson