Gone Girl Review: A Reader’s Take

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David Fincher’s pitch-black thriller is sinister, unsettling, and utterly brilliant. For fans of the novel it’s based on, it serves as a near perfect adaptation.

Note: This review is written from the perspective of someone who’s read Gillian Flynn’s novel, and thus contains minor spoilers from both the book and the movie. If you are unfamiliar with the source material, please refer to my colleague Matt’s review here.

It’s a phrase that feels as old as time: “The book is always better than the movie.” Adapting a piece of work from page to screen is a tricky process, but it happens frequently enough that it’s now usually met with initial skepticism. We’re always so nervous when we hear news of our favorite reads being turned into big-budget blockbusters. “They’re going to ruin it.” “They cast her as the lead? She’s a terrible choice!” “I can already tell it’s going to suck.”

Gone Girl, the best-selling novel-turned-movie by Gillian Flynn had several of these problems from the outset. How would the movie handle the book’s alternating narrators, or it’s game-changing midway reveal? How would Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike articulate the complexities of Nick and Amy Dunne? And of course, why is Tyler Perry involved in this at all? Flynn’s novel is something of a rarity: a nail-biting murder mystery, a commentary on marriage, and a razor-sharp satire of the media all tied together with beautifully written prose. There were so many things for the film version to get wrong.

As it turns out, Gone Girl the movie is a rarity as well. Not only is it one of the year’s best films, but it’s an adaptation that simultaneously lives up to its name, and stands on its own. Sure, there are a few small changes made here and there for, as Amy would say, posterity’s sake, but the tone and the heart of the novel are still there. If nothing else, the movie serves as a reminder of three things:

1. An author should be allowed to adapt his or her own work for the screen, especially if said author is as talented as Flynn.
2. David Fincher is a mastermind director.
3. Rosamund Pike needs to be in more movies.

The story of a beleaguered husband whose life is turned upside down on the day of his fifth wedding anniversary when his wife goes missing seems pretty cut-and-dry. Flip on almost any major network and there’s at least one police procedural with a similar plot. Or, flip on Dateline any night of the week to see a real-life version of these events. Gone Girl knows how redundant this idea is, and so it takes its concept and rips a whole right through it.

Fincher’s direction is smart and nuanced. Flashbacks can often be a hackneyed plot device, but here they serve as effective building blocks for the world’s most toxic marriage. We see Nick and Amy happy and in love in New York and we like them. We have Amy’s voiceovers painting quite a romantic portrait of the two. Still, something seems off. The score, composed by longtime Fincher collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, is ominous and haunting. There’s something wrong here, but we’re just not sure what it is.

Soon enough, the twists start to come, increasing the tension and making it impossible to divert your eyes from the screen. Just who exactly are Nick and Amy? Flynn’s script is savvy, using every bit of new information to further develop her characters, rather than letting it overwhelm them. By the time The Big Twist arrives, readers of the book are ready for it, and non-readers have their entire view of the plot shattered to pieces.

Then, there are the performances. Affleck is excellently cast as Nick, possibly using his own tabloid scrutiny to help with his authentic delivery. He’s the perfect mix of cocky and confused, making him an unreliable, but fascinating lead. Pike, meanwhile, is a mesmerizing screen presence. Her Amy experiences a wide range of emotions, but they’re all underlined by a shark-like intensity. Her actions might seem initially confusing, but every minute we spend with her, we start to see just how meticulous her thought process is.

The supporting roles are played skillfully as well. The Leftovers‘ Carrie Coon brings an acerbic wit to Nick’s sister Margo. Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit spar off each other nicely as the two detectives assigned to the case. Neil Patrick Harris is creepily polished as Amy’s old flame Desi. Even Perry, who I’m used to seeing as a sassy geriatric, is engaging as a slick defense attorney Nick hires.

There are several aspects of Flynn’s novel that seem like they would be unfilmable, but she and Fincher rise to the challenge with ease. Amy and Nick’s changing points of view are expertly interspersed throughout the film in the aforementioned flashbacks and voiceovers. Nick’s detest at the surrounding media circus and its “blame the husband” mentality is realized through his conversations with Margo. Even Flynn’s diatribe on the “Cool Girl”—which has taken on a life of its own on the internet—made the cut as an extended monologue; something only a director like Fincher could pull off.

It seems that early reports of the ending being changed for the screen have been largely exaggerated. I won’t go into too much detail here, but things end pretty much the same way as they do in the book. This sets up a potential problem in and of itself, because many readers found the book’s closing to be off-putting and depraved. Look, I get it. It’s not the satisfying triumph you’re expecting. If you look at Nick and Amy, however, and really think about how warped their relationship is, it’s actually such a brilliant finish. I’m sure my reasoning won’t sit well with everyone, but the final shot of the film is both bleak and strangely poignant, which is, I think, exactly what Flynn was going for.

Yes, some adaptations pale in comparison to their source material—the recent This is Where I Leave You is a prime example—but there are many that have been quite good. Still, the truth of the matter is that even if a movie is fun, entertaining, and works well on its own, it just “isn’t as good as the book.” Novels and film are two entirely separate mediums, and so anyone who enjoys a piece of writing likely won’t hold its screen incarnation in the same regard.

Well Gone Girl readers, I am asking you to challenge this notion and yourselves. Go see this film with an open mind, and try not to gripe about minor details that got changed or discarded in the translation. What I think you’ll find is a piece of work that’s exhilarating, complex, and totally captivating. What’s more, I think you’ll find it to be just as good as the book it’s based on. I know I did. Grade: A


By Mike Papirmeister

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