About a year ago I read the Gillian Flynn book “Gone Girl.” Every year I try I to read a book that is going to be made into either a television series or film, I am a nerd who likes to compare source material, and see if the auteur “gets” the source material. Sometime it’s a slam-dunk, Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River from Dennis Lehane. Most of the time its an embarrassing Broncos Super Bowl shut, read The Lovely Bones, and then watch Peter Jackson’s film version, I dare you.
What helps or hurts a film is that the author of the source material has some involvement in the adaptation. Stephen Chobsky did a fantastic job adapting the screenplay and directing The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I would argue that John Irving’s adaptation of The Cider House rules falls into the failure side of things, even though it won an Oscar, that film gives me a toothache, but I liked the book. Gillian Flynn adapted her book for the screen, and with David Fincher in the director’s seat you get perfectly formed realization of some of the darkest tropes in modern day society. Together they tell a story that leaves you mesmerized.
Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike) have been married for 5 years. On their anniversary, Nick is alerted by his neighbor that his cat is outside, and the door to his home is open. Nick enters he sees an over turned ottoman, and some broken glass, he immediately knows something is wrong and calls the police. This situation soon gets elevated because the way the house looks, and Amy is thought of as more than a missing person.
Who are Nick and Amy? How did they meet? What is their story as a couple? Like within the novel, the present day story is perfectly woven into the film through journal passages told from Amy’s perspective. Nick and Amy met a fun party in New York City. They fell in love, Nick would help save her from past fame, be the guy she needed, and Amy would be the “cool girl” leading to their eventual marriage. As the economy got worse they both lost their jobs, and Nick’s mother is diagnosed with cancer, so they have to move to Missouri, where Nick ends up opening a bar.
As their marriage evolves and Amy goes missing Nick soon becomes the prime suspect, but life is more complicated. Love is complicated, and societal norms have shifted to force people to look a little deeper. In one scene Officer Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) states “My wife always said the most obvious thing is usually the truth.” Detective Boney (Kim Dickens) retorts, “I’ve always found the opposite to be true.”
Gone Girl forces you to go beyond the surface, and examine not only the characters, but rather society, and the instruments which propel they way in which day to day life is examined. David Fincher, who has directed deeper criminal procedures like Se7en, knows how to shine a light on society. Fincher’s Se7en was ahead of its time; it pushed audiences to see the level of the sociopathic killer who thinks he is killing for a deeper purpose, the religious zealot, using the seven deadly sins to shine a light on society and all its flaws.
Fincher did the same on a different level with The Social Network. From the beginning Network was mocked as “the Facebook movie,” and to some extent that description is correct, the movie was about the founding of that website, but it also played into the context of millennial generation, and the propensity to isolate themselves in the vein of being well known, infamous. Zuckerberg was seen as the main who created a website for people to connect with friends while isolating his own friends on the way to the top. Fincher’s work with his screenwriters has heightened this propensity to elevate each of his films.
In Gone Girl David Fincher works with Flynn to help craft a tale about a couple in the modern era. Flynn’s novel deals in the subject of love and marriage on a deeper level than any I have experience, although I have never been married. Flynn’s book weaves a complicated tale, and the film’s adaptation holds tightly to the details. Together the marriage, pun intended, of Flynn’s script, and Fincher’s typically cold and calculated direction are a perfect fit.
Along with this blend of great direction, and writing, Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth helps add to the tone. The film is remorseless, dark, and with each shot Cronenweth never lets you lose that feeling of helplessness within this relationship. Editor Kirk Baxter who won the Oscar for Fincher’s last film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo perfectly cuts between scenes, making the build up to the end even more fantastical. Fincher’s new scoring team of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have added Ren Klyce into the mix, Reznor and Ross have worked on Fincher’s last two films, and their scoring creates the perfect tone for everything Fincher. While all of the work behind the scenes makes this film tick it’s the perfect casting Laray Mayfield who has work with Fincher since Fight Club.
Affleck is Nick Dunne. As I was finishing reading the book Affleck’s casting was announced, and I was floored. There is something smug and glib about Affleck as a person, no offense meant, just watch his panel conversation with Bill Maher this past weekend. Nick is the guy, who just wants to be a good guy, but is lazy, and smug and thinks he can get by with that charm and winning smile, or massaging of words. Affleck never misses a beat with this role, and while the performance is based in subtlety it’s a career best.
There is nothing subtle about Rosamund Pike as “Amazing Amy,” and that’s the only mild spoiler within this review. Pike would have been a perfect muse to Hitchcock, but in Fincher and Flynn’s world she takes her performance to levels of brilliance that few women get to attain these days, especially in mainstream films. From her voice over in her diary you get an image of Amy, the girl who never lived up to her parents expectations, the “cool girl,” but Amy is so much more and Pike plays this role to perfection.
While Affleck and Pike are fantastic, its Mayfield’s casting of the supporting players, even on the smallest levels that makes this film a success. I often think that the minor roles get looked over in casting these days, which forces films to flounder. Films are looking for that supporting Oscar rather than letting the story play out. Carrie Coon, and Kim Dickens are the biggest standouts, but Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Missi Pyle, Emily Ratajkowski and Casey Wilson, fit perfectly into this tapestry.
In this intricate tale Fincher’s style fits, with the tone of Flynn’s dark and twisted world. Marriage is not, simple, the economy can make things bleak, the 24-hour news cycle is a joke, and whether you are in New York or Mississippi life is complicated. The film is not that simple, life is more complex, and this plays out perfectly on screen. The great performances from the entire cast, this would deserve a casting Oscar (if that existed), help hit each sardonic note. Some will read this film the wrong way, but the film is haunting, and will leave lasting impression on your relationship psyche.