By and large, I don’t read the books that get turned into movies before the movie comes out. I’m behind the times like that. The last time I really tried was Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and that lasted like a week. All of this is to say, that I never have to worry about being disappointed by a movie because the book was better, and I also never get what a story is before I see the movie. I can go in as fresh as fresh can be. All I had to go one for David Fincher’s Gone Girl was the trailer, which is deft at creating a compelling mystery that clearly has a lot we don’t know going on. But the trailer doesn’t accurately depict what the movie is going to be, and that’s a very good thing. I didn’t know what kind of movie I was getting into, but once I got turned on to it, it completely changed my viewing experience. Few films, or stories at all, can do that.
Based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, who also wrote the screenplay (changing bits of it, I’m told), Gone Girl is a twisted and twisty mystery that constantly unfolds while the audience’s sympathies shift between the two main characters for most of the running time. And it’s not a small running time, either; just about 2 and a half hours. Lots and lots of things go on, and the movie changes the kind of movie it is several times before the end, becoming tonally different depending on the situation. It’s hard to know what to make of it and even at the end I wasn’t sure.
But for some narrative context. The film follows Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) a husband and bar owner in Missouri who lives in a very nice house. From the outside, he has the perfect marriage with Amy (Rosamund Pike), a New Yorker and subject of a series of highly-successful children’s books written and illustrated by her parents. On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick returns home after a call from a neighbor to find the door open, a table shattered, and his wife gone. Curious. He calls the police and Detective Boney (Kim Dickens) and Officer Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) arrive and right away feel like something is not as it seems. Nick stays with his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coons) and the search for Amy begins, all the while Nick is placed under media scrutiny and evidence starts to pile up against him.
While all of this is going on, we’re treated to flashbacks in the form of journal entries written by Amy chronicling their entire relationship from when they first met at a party to the day before she went missing. Their relationship started blissful and slowly became something else. She began to fear her husband would do something to her. Or maybe not. Neither Nick nor Amy are exactly who they seem to be and as the audience sees this, their perception of the couple changes dramatically, sometimes from scene to scene. Eventually, Nick is forced to hire a very fancy and high-priced lawyer (Tyler Perry) if he’s to have any hope of clearing his name… but is his name something that should be cleared?
It’s hard to talk too much about Gone Girl without giving a lot away, but it’s a movie that rewards those willing to go along with its winding road of a storyline. It makes sense that Flynn adapted her own novel because it plays very much like a book you’re watching, with the different chapters truly feeling like a break in the action and a shift to another part of the story. It also has some dialogue that might look good on a page but doesn’t really sound too great, or realistic, spoken aloud. However, I’m not sure anything about this movie is meant to be realistic, despite the at times very grim subject matter.
Fincher’s direction is interesting here and I think he’s trying to keep up with the action as well. It’s not nearly as flashy as I expected it to be, though it definitely has the bleached quality that Fincher’s movies with director of photography Jeff Cronenweth always seem to have. I have to be honest, I didn’t really love the direction overall, and a lot of the fade-outs in between scenes, going from journal entry to present time, seemed very clunky and not particularly polished. Still, he’s a director I quite enjoy so he doesn’t do a bad job, of course, but it just certainly wasn’t my favorite of his outings. He gets very specific performances out of his actors, though, and you know the tone, whether it’s something you particularly enjoy or not, was painstakingly molded through many, many takes.
I guess I have to say I enjoyed Gone Girl, but it definitely wasn’t the movie advertised. I found myself laughing a lot more than I ever expected to and I really enjoyed all of the performances. If you’re expecting another Seven or Zodiac or even The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, you’re probably going to be left cold, but if you go where the story takes you, and you buy into the world in any fashion, I think you’re going to have a wicked good time.