Affleck, Pike anchor brilliant adaptation of best-selling novel
One of the most hotly anticipated movies of the fall season, Director David Fincher’s Gone Girl more than lives up to its expectations. Based on Gillian Flynn’s popular novel of the same name, and benefitting tremendously from a screenplay penned by the author herself, the film is sure to please both the book’s rabid fans as well as those fresh to the story. The picture has been heavily marketed as a crime mystery, and although it is that, it is also much, much more. In reality, Fincher and Flynn have given us a searing portrait of a marriage cleverly disguised as a taut thriller.
For those unfamiliar with the novel, the less said about the storyline the better, as one of the film’s pleasures is watching the carefully constructed plot unfold; just when you think you’ve figured out where the story is going, it veers in a totally different direction. Suffice to say that the film concerns Nick (Ben Affleck, extremely well cast), and Amy (Rosamund Pike, excellent), an exceptionally attractive and seemingly happy married couple newly relocated from Manhattan to Nick’s small hometown in Missouri for economic and family reasons. On the morning of the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary, Nick discovers Amy is missing, with signs pointing to foul play. Suspicion is cast on Nick, whose flat affect in the face of his wife’s disappearance seems more than a little odd for a stunned, grieving husband.
As the story unfolds – both of what happened to Amy, and of the couple’s courtship (as told via flashback vignettes from Amy’s diary entries) – we begin to see a picture of a marriage that may not be as perfect as it initially seems. Fincher ratchets up the tension, and does a phenomenal job contrasting the differing motivations and mindsets of the key characters. How can we truly ever know another person, the film asks, even – and maybe especially – those closest to us? Can we ever know really what another person is thinking or feeling? Do we ever really show our true selves to others?
Fincher and Flynn explore these questions, and, along the way, also take an equally biting look at the media sensationalism that tends to surround such missing person cases (the Scott and Lacey Peterson case from ten years ago immediately comes to mind). The film expertly captures the incessant frenzy of talks shows and news programs that seem to cover such stories round the clock, almost always to the benefit of no one, and certainly to the detriment of those involved.
Of course, the picture wouldn’t be such a success without believable and layered performances, and, fortunately, that’s not a problem here. Aside from Affleck and Pike, who nail their roles in all their psychological complexity, we get a breakout performance from Kim Dickens (from TV’s Sons of Anarchy and Treme) as the no-nonsense Detective Rhonda Boney. Imagine Holly Hunter playing Fargo’s Marge or Silence of the Lamb’s Clarice, and you’ll have a good sense of the kind of tough, thoughtful character Dickens creates here. Similarly, Tyler Perry gets some of the film’s best lines as high-priced defense lawyer Tanner Bolt (one of the best fictional attorney names ever), and Sela Ward, who we really don’t see enough of on screen these days, has a nice cameo as a television news magazine host. Finally, Carrie Coon’s portrayal of Nick’s twin sister Margo is reminiscent of the early work of Janeane Garofalo, as Coon exhibits similar dry wit and emotional reserve. And Neil Patrick Harris, as Desi Collings, an old high school boyfriend of Amy’s, is chillingly intense in his portrayal of an obsessive, mentally unbalanced man who thinks he’s anything but.
Kudos to Fincher, then, for faithfully adapting Flynn’s novel, and for deftly capturing not only its central mystery, but also its scathing take on the nature of marriage and intimacy. If you go see this film with your significant other, you may look at him or her twice on the way home; you may find yourself thinking, as Nick does, “what have we done to each other? What will we do?”
Gone Girl opens today at Bay Area theaters.