Fincher’s latest is pretty decent mercenary work
by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
For the second consecutive film, director David Fincher — the most technically proficient filmmaker currently at work in Hollywood — has adapted a book-club-style novel. (The first was his American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.) Sure, there’s no one out there more capable of doing it right than Fincher, but still: perhaps he should be working with more challenging material?
Gone Girl the novel is an interesting page-turner (and it spent eight weeks at number one on the NY Times bestseller list for fiction), but there’s very little to be gained from a film adaptation, at least for anyone who’s read it. As much as Fincher plays the audience like a fiddle with the story’s many curveballs, Gone Girl the film doesn’t linger the way The Social Network, Zodiac and Fight Club did. It feels more like a director-for-hire kind of situation than a true passion project.
Gone Girl is told from two separate perspectives: Nick (Ben Affleck), the husband, and Amy (Rosamund Pike), the missing wife. Nick’s story takes place in the present and follows the vanishing of Amy. Her disappearance is initially treated as a burglary gone bad, but some red flags (financial issues, the girlfriend on the side, his overall uneasiness) indicate Nick may have had something to do with it.
We meet Amy through flashbacks taken straight from her journal. The path from the early days of their romance, to their wedding and through the slow decline of their relationship follows a natural progression, although certain clues reveal a pair of egos too large for a healthy relationship. Neither Nick nor Amy’s depiction of their marriage rings entirely true, and soon the question is which one of them is the bigger liar.
Along with an outstanding performance from Pike, Fincher gets remarkable results out of actors not known for their flexibility. Affleck delivers a nuanced performance that keeps us guessing, Tyler Perry (who’s never been anybody’s idea of subtle) is surprisingly good as a celebrity lawyer, and Neil Patrick Harris plays his character with a nice hint of menace.
Gone Girl operates on two levels. On the surface, it’s an intriguing mystery with two unreliable narrators, which makes the outcome fairly unpredictable. On the downside, author Gillian Flynn adapted her own novel for the screen, and she’s too in love with her words to simplify the clunky dialogue. Fincher, though, treats the material with enough detachment to allow it to breathe and even be funny at times.
The deeper level at work here concerns the media’s treatment of suspects as de facto guilty parties based on flimsy circumstantial evidence — which is so five years ago. Sure, muckraking journalists deserve every bit of scorn they get, but Fincher has nothing new to say about them.
Ultimately, Gone Girl is trying to establish the fundamental insanity of relationships: Two individuals sublimating their own needs for the wellbeing of the other is not sustainable over time. It’s the audience’s decision to either disagree with that and view the movie as a disturbing thriller, or accept it and approach Gone Girl as if it’s the darkest of comedies.