It might seem an obvious move for David Fincher to follow up one adaptation of a bestselling thriller (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) with yet another adaptation of a bestselling thriller. But, hey, if the hit formula ain’t broke, he’s not going to fix it. And watching Gone Girl, it’s abundantly clear that it ain’t broke.
Even if you have read the book and know what happens in Gone Girl, you’re still in for a treat watching the movie. And if you haven’t read it and don’t know what happens, well then you’re definitely in for a treat.
The story revolves around the hunt for missing Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), the perfect blonde wife of perfect hunk Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck). The inspiration for her parents’ wildly successful kids books about “Amazing Amy”, the real-life girl is a native New Yorker with a trust fund who, out of love and spousal duty, moved to her husband’s home town in Missouri. Things swiftly went south once the perfect couple went South, and on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary (as Nick says, there are no good presents when celebrating your wooden anniversary), Amy disappears under suspicious circumstances. Nick appears distraught, but despite appeals and vigils, he’s soon the prime suspect. A twisted, he-said/she-said tale unfolds as Amy’s diary entries reveal what was really occurring in their marriage. Or do they?
As you watch Gone Girl, you find your sympathies and suspicions undergoing a constant process of realignment. The film goes heavy on the satire of true-crime TV, with Nick’s guilt or innocence being debated by pundits who can read a world into a smile or a selfie. And even the police find their attitudes shifting as more and more strange revelations crop up.
I had read Gone Girl and was initially sceptical as to how it might work on the big screen, even if Fincher had made a decent fist of filming the seemingly unfilmable Fight Club. But once I heard about the utterly perfect casting of the leads I had high hopes. And they were not unfounded. Affleck oozes easy prom king charm as Nick, but his good looks mask a sense of bitterness and resentment that could be lethal. Rosamund Pike is exceptional as the chilly beauty whose froideur hides myriad secrets. In an excellent cast, there’s the added bonus of Neil Patrick Harris as an old flame of Amy’s, who comes across like a sinister version of Niles Crane from Frasier, while Tyler Perry is incredibly charismatic as the outspoken go-to lawyer for wife-murderers.
Fincher’s tenth movie looks at a marriage that went wrong and questions how well you can ever really know another person – especially the one you share your life with. And, for that matter, how well you can ever really know yourself, if you are not honest about who you are. In addition to questions about identity and relationships, the film also shows how work, money, family – the boring stuff of life – can end up defining it. Nick and Amy find it hard to sustain their relationship when they have to focus on things outside it.
Naturally, in adapting her novel for the screen, author Gillian Flynn has had to ditch some story strands. Most aren’t missed, but the absence of some of the detail about Nick and Amy’s early life together, and their relationships with their parents, makes it harder to see the contrast between the good old days and the just plain bad her and now. The film also lacks the virtuoso visuals of some of Fincher’s other work – the housing developments and closed-down shopping malls are left to speak for themselves. But, don’t worry, there are still a couple of utterly shocking scenes that wouldn’t be out of place in Se7en.
This uneasy, ambiguous movie will wrong-foot you at every turn – and there are many. And although it doesn’t have a lot of positive things to say about the state of modern relationships, what it does provide is an absorbing, unsettling mystery, in which anyone, including your own husband or wife, could be – and probably is – a monster.
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