‘Gone Girl’ Review: David Fincher’s Sleazy Prestige Film
I cheated with ‘Gone Girl.’ This does not mean I read the book; I have not read the book. I cheated by reading the synopsis of the book on Wikipedia, of all things. I’m not sure why I did this. I don’t have much of a defense. I just wanted to know.
It’s a weird thing: I do not at all regret this decision. My instinct tells me that I should, yet I don’t. And, now, having seen ‘Gone Girl’ on New York Film Festival’s opening night, I’m very happy with myself. I’m giving myself a proverbial pat on the back as I type this. Now, I am in no way recommending this course of action, it just worked for me. I’m glad I knew The Twist because it paints the whole first act in a light that, for me, is more enjoyable – which seems to be the conventional wisdom after the screening. The people who had read the book, or numbskulls like me who read the Internet Cliff’s Notes, enjoyed the entire movie, while the people who went in blind found the first act frustrating, but then appreciated it more post-Twist. Anyway, take all that how you want.
Throughout David Fincher’s adaptation of ‘Gone Girl,’ it was almost as if my subconscious was telling me that this movie shouldn’t be as good as what I was watching. That’s not a slam on Gillian Flynn’s novel (obviously; I haven’t read it), it’s just that the book is presented in such a unique way, which would at least seem almost impossible to pull off – just in a basic book vs. movie sort of way. Look, I understand that this following statement can be said about most movies, but in a less capable director’s hands – and with a less capable cast -- this movie could have easily have been garbage. Actually, this movie should have been garbage.
Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a southeastern Missouri husband (as someone who grew up in Missouri, ‘Gone Girl’ nailed the tone) who comes home one afternoon to find his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), is missing – plus there’s an ominous chaotic scene in the living room where something sinister has happened. Soon, a public campaign is launched to find Amy, though Nick is acting a little strange – at least, he’s acting strange as far as the media is concerned. (If I go further, it’s gets closer and closer to spoiler territory. If you want to know more of the plot, just read the ‘Gone Girl’ Wikipedia page like I did.)
David Fincher doesn’t get enough credit for his humor. (The only time I’ve interviewed Fincher, for ‘The Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo,’ I found him fairly jovial -- he did a Scooby-Doo impression ... three times -- certainly not the brooding characterization that he sometimes projects.) ‘Gone Girl’ has a lot of humor. But if you’re paying attention, Fincher’s movies are always funny: ‘Dragon Tattoo’ had humor, ‘The Social Network’ had humor, ‘Fight Club’ had a lot of humor. Even ‘Zodiac’ had humor when Robert Downey Jr.’s Paul Avery starts questioning Jake Gyllenhaal’s Robert Graysmith about his Aqua Velva drink choice. Fincher knows how to mine humor out of the grimmest scenarios.
‘Gone Girl’ obviously isn’t ‘Zodiac,’ but this is not a light movie. And that’s the thing, I can just imagine a director looking at this material and wanting to make a more straightforward comedic satire in the vein of something like ‘To Die For.’ Fincher never panders (obviously) and his frenzied schizophrenic style is on display (driven home by Trent Reznor’s score) in a way that’s ever-fascinating and ever-paranoid – and, yes, funny.
This cast: This is the best ensemble I’ve seen in a film this year and I suspect not one of them will win any sort of award. And who cares. Rosamund Pike has been woefully underused up to this point in her career, and I’m so glad that’s forever behind us. Her transformation in this film was frightening; she scared me. She honestly scared me.
I hate just listing actors names with a thesaurus full of adjectives meaning “great” following their names. So, let’s just say that if I did enjoy doing such a thing, I’d do that for Ben Affleck, Neil Patrick Harris, Carrie Coon, and Kim Dickens.
I’d save a special adjective for Tyler Perry as Nick’s hotshot attorney, Tanner Bolt (which will be the name of my firstborn child), who is just so good that I almost can’t believe it’s him. The strange thing is, I like Tyler Perry – there’s something so comforting about him. So I loved that in the post-movie Q&A, David Fincher admitted that this is the very reason he cast Perry. (I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during the first conversation between David Fincher and Tyler Perry.) Fincher's point is that Perry could tell you to stand in front of an oncoming truck and convince you in the end that everything will be OK. As soon as Perry shows up, I’m thinking, Nick seems to be in good hands now.
‘Gone Girl’ just might be David Fincher’s most accessible movie, which is a strange thing to write while actively thinking about a couple of the more graphic scenes. But it’s almost as if Fincher wanted to take material that could have just been a sleazy cash grab and show people how this type of movie – a sleazy movie -- can be done. He turned what could have been dreadful into prestige and one of the most entertaining movies of the year … whether you already know the ending or not.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.