Directors don’t become synonymous with genres as often as they used to in Hollywood’s Golden Age, but play the word association game with “David Fincher” and you’re bound to hear “thriller” come up. There’s little doubt that if you’re producing an intense, dark, mystery-driven film, Fincher’s your first choice, and he proves it yet again in bringing another popular book to the silver screen in “Gone Girl.”
For those who know nothing about the novel (as I did), Fincher’s involvement should be your first clue that this is beyond run-of-the-mill mystery stuff, that somewhere in this story of what appears to be a “did-he-or-didn’t-he” murder case lurks a sinister and sadistic turn.
Based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, “Gone Girl” stars Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, a writer/professor and co-owner of a bar living in the heart of Missouri, whose marriage to Amy (Rosamund Pike) has been rocky of late. When Amy disappears, the search to find her becomes a media circus, and before long, all eyes turn to Nick as her most likely killer.
Under Fincher’s direction, the entire film is covered by an unsettling fog, with a good portion of the credit belonging to his collaboration with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who scored “The Social Network” for Fincher and won an Oscar. He creates a bleak portrait of what most would consider a quaint Midwestern setting and creates doubt and intrigue at every turn, while also satirizing Middle America and mainstream media.
With its crystal clear premise, “Gone Girl” holds its audience captive, inviting you to see if you can figure out what really happened, confirming a few of your suspicions here and there until suddenly you have no idea what happened to the movie you had bought a ticket to see. It’s not a radical or misleading transformation from the first act to the second, but one that will remind audiences that the truth isn’t exactly black and white in the way most movies would have you believe.
It’s weird to call Affleck perfectly cast in this movie, but he has just the right balance of sympathy-worthy leading man qualities and totally unlikable smugness. Normally George Clooney is your guy in this case, but Clooney would be too lovable and handsome to play Nick. Affleck’s reputation, having gone from pretty-boy movie star to tabloid fodder to esteemed director, definitely works for him in this film. You see bits of the “Argo” actor you really enjoyed rooting for, and bits of “Daredevil” and the cocky, dumb Kevin Smith roles. “Gone Girl” wants you to question and scrutinize Nick yet also feel like there’s no way he could be a murderer.
On the other side, few people will forget who Rosamund Pike is after seeing this movie. Although she’s been in a fair number of films and always been a good actress, “Gone Girl” showcases the true extent of her range, and is finally the perfect storm of a film to elevate her profile. Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin sister, Margo, is another great casting find; the Chicago-based actress will surely see more big-time supporting work in the future.
With Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris rounding out the supporting cast, it’s safe to say this is one of the more unusual ensemble casts for a big adaptation in recent years.
When it comes to differences between the book and the movie, only so much criticism can be leveled against Hollywood as this is a very (very) rare case in which Flynn – on her own – adapted her book for the screen. Obviously she doesn’t have final cut, but most of how the story plays out on screen can be attributed to her. Given the movie is totally enthralling, she obviously has screenwriting chops. You could argue that it’s a bit long, but otherwise, the movie never feels hindered in the way that overly loyal adaptations tend to do.
Most thrillers operate using a formula that ends with a twist or an epiphany that ultimately satisfies the viewer. “Gone Girl” doesn’t work that way, which is both a great strength and a great weakness. On one hand, it will simply be too weird and dark for many people; on the other, it uses conventions to highlight issues and ideas that go well beyond the scope of what other films in the genre ever dream to accomplish. More than a great thriller, “Gone Girl” speaks to the challenges of the modern marriage, issues of the victimization of women, the media’s tendency to sensationalize stories and more. It’s a trade-off that makes “Gone Girl” pretty unforgettable, regardless of personal opinion.
Directed by David Fincher
Written by Gillian Flynn
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon, Neil Patrick Harris