Gone Girl is the book of the moment. Much as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was The Big Thing when David Fincher adapted it for US screens, Gillian Flynn’s novel seems to be ubiquitous. Everyone is reading it and talking about it, and those who aren’t are certainly aware of its presence.
I expect this is partially because of the David Fincher adaptation. The book was released in 2012, and though it quickly hit the New York Times Best Seller List, I didn’t hear about it until the announcement of its cinematic release. I considered reading it, but I never got around to it. (Flixist Editor-in-Chief Matt Razak has been hounding me to do so now, though, so I may pick it up.)
Walking around New York City, posters for the film are unavoidable. This adaptation is a big deal. The Big Book is about to be The Big Movie.
And it’s going to get people talking.
[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the 52nd New York Film Festival. It has been reposted to coincide with the film’s theatrical release.]
Director: David Fincher
Release Date: October 3, 2014
When Gillian Flynn was approached about adapting her novel, her agreement came with one major caveat: only if she could write it. Having that sort of leverage is a benefit to being the writer of The Big Thing. Suzanne Collins made the same request with The Hunger Games, though she co-wrote it with director Gary Ross. (She did not write the sequels.) This was Flynn’s first time writing a screenplay, and she was lucky to be working with Fincher.
I only realized recently that David Fincher’s recent filmography consists entirely of adaptations. Everything he’s done since Zodiac has been based on a book. I never thought much about it, because other than Dragon Tattoo I’d never read the source material before going in. More crucially, I never felt like I was missing something because of that. Each of the films simply seemed like amazing films, inspiration be damned. That’s still true with Gone Girl, but his most recent outing feels more like its based on a novel than his previous adaptations.
(Slight digression: There’s a rant here about the 2010 Academy Awards. David Fincher is the reason The Social Network‘s screenplay won an Oscar. Period. End of story. The dialogue in Aaron Sorkin’s script was excellent, sure, but the screenplay itself is lacking in every other department. It was Fincher’s directorial brilliance that took the film beyond just great dialogue and into something truly fascinating. That he was shunned for Best Director that year is a travesty. That he was shunned in favor of Tom “I Tried My Hardest to Ruin Les Mis” Hooper is an insult to the medium.)
Gone Girl tells the story of Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), who has disappeared under suspicious circumstances, and her husband Nick (Ben Affleck), who is trying to deal with the media blitz that follows. But a heavy focus on the possibly-deceased Amy’s diary entries early on serve to make everything feel more written. The diary serves to flesh out a backstory for the couple, and while that’s vital to the narrative (as is the fact that we hear Amy’s voice speaking them), they sometimes felt less like a film and more like a book. (There’s more to it than that, but explaining exactly why that’s true would delve into heavy spoiler territory. In the coming days, we’ll have something that gives it .)
After the first act, it changes. All the film’s mysteries are all solved by one exhaustive monologue. And only then did I realize that Gone Girl isn’t a mystery but a thriller. The big question went from “What happened?” to “What’s going to happen?” It’s a jarring shift, and it makes Gone Girl feel longer than it is. At 150 minutes, it’s definitely on the long side, but I never got bored watching it. But the shift felt like a theatrical act break, one to be followed by an intermission and discussion with other patrons. But I didn’t get the break, and I became preoccupied by the change. That combined with the fact that I had literally no idea where the narrative was going (which is a good thing, by the way) meant the film seemed never-ending.
But at the same time, Gone Girl feels like it could have been longer. The novel is 500 pages long, and Fincher said afterwards that there was enough material there to make three movies. (Though that was probably facetious, I’m glad he didn’t go full Peter Jackson.) Even so, it wouldn’t have surprised me to hear that there was a four hour cut of the film floating around.
And I’d watch that four hour cut. In two and a half hours, Gone Girl hits so many plot points and touches on so many fascinating stories that I wanted to see more of. There are a lot of places where the narrative could have been expanded. The narrative hits so many twists and turns that there’s hardly room to really consider what’s going on let alone soak the whole thing in. Though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Despite feeling long, it’s fast paced and feels complete, and aside from something pivotal involving security cameras, it feels logical and cohesive. But it still feels like there are gaps that could have been filled in. (Perhaps that is another reason why it feels like an adaptation.)
But any complaints aside, this is still a David Fincher film, and that means it’s a great film. Fincher is easily one of the best American directors working today, both in terms of technical ability and in his ability to pull great performances from actors. The standout in Gone Girl is Tyler Perry. When I saw his name on the cast list, I honestly thought it was a joke, but his his turn as Nick’s lawyer is simply fantastic. (Everyone else is great as well, though that wasn’t so surprising.)
Having not read the source material, I can’t say how Gone Girl will play to those who have. I do know that the third act was radically changed at Fincher’s behest, but beyond that I don’t know what plotlines have been altered or cut. I don’t know if there’s some favorite character out there who didn’t make it from the page to the screen or some vital plot point that would clear up the camera thing I mentioned earlier. But it really shouldn’t matter, because Gone Girl absolutely stands on its own. It may occasionally feel like a translation, but Gillian Flynn wrote one hell of a narrative, medium be damned.