“Everything else is background noise”
Director David Fincher‘s Gone Girl falls prey to the one thing that often prevents me from truly loving a cinematic adaptation of a novel—unquestionable faithfulness. Gillian Flynn does a wonderful job distilling her pulpy thriller into a fast-paced 149 minutes and Fincher stays true to the back and forth vantage points of Act One between Nick Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) precarious circumstances and the diary of his wife who has disappeared (Rosamund Pike‘s Amy) before all hell breaks loose. It’s perfectly reformed with enough visual detail to replace inner monologues and stellar performances to make us believe the depravity underneath the darkness already prevalent on the surface. But while that’s great for those in the audience who haven’t read the book, it causes the countless people who have to find themselves bored by the lack of surprise.
One of the reasons I like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button so much is that it used F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s short story as a jumping off point. Similarities to Forrest Gump aside, it took an imaginative conceit and ran with it to breathe life into a new, artistically stunning work all its own. The first thought I had when the credits started rolling after Gone Girl was how great a companion it was to the book. I didn’t think, “Wow, that was an amazing movie.” In fact, I’d say that while it’s technically sound on all fronts, I was left emotionally cold. I felt at a distance, watching the melodrama play out as though a North Carthage resident seeing the train wreck unfold on television rather than an outsider getting immersed in this world at the frontlines.
A big part of this is the source material. While I loved Part One enough to flip pages at a speed I hadn’t used in years, what follows can’t prevent itself from becoming more over-the-top than the whole can effectively support. Don’t get me wrong, the reveal is still a stroke of genius that got my heart and mind racing. And it’s orchestrated as well onscreen as it was on the page thanks to the retention of a fantastic first line spoken over the black transitional screen. At a certain point, however, the gravity of the situation devolves into parody due to the great lengths needed for its conflicted and complicated denouement to work. The chaos becomes too airtight a series of events for plausibility—something that conjured laughter during both iterations when Flynn hoped I’d be amazed.
Regardless, it’s a memorable work that’s better than a majority of the films released this year in its depiction of the deplorable Nick Dunne receiving his just deserts after five years of selfish vanity and sinful desire ruined his marriage. The details of his transgressions roll out in due course as the town that loves him gradually turns until even his twin sister Margot (Carrie Coon) begins to have doubts. Detective Boney (Kim Dickens) would like to believe he’s innocent while Officer Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) hopes to arrest him each morning upon waking up. TV personality Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle) slanders him through an exaggerated agenda based on appropriately damning facts and the hotshot New York defense attorney Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) waxes on about innocence until proven guilty in a pitch for employment and added fame.
We get a bead on these characters’ motivations to understand where they stand, but the runtime’s brevity leaves out much of the depth and three-dimensionality Flynn draws on the page. As a result, the constant wrestling between compassion and vitriol we in the audience have for Nick during the course of the novel’s suspenseful build fluctuates on a dime and turns into an instantaneous switch. We haven’t the time to create informed hypotheses because we’re desperately trying to guess the film’s next move. What I loved about the beginning of Flynn’s book was how she lulled me into false security by making Nick the narrator. Altering that vantage to third person ultimately removes his extra layer of subterfuge and allows us to directly hone in on the layer of deceit it was utilized to hide.
Much of what happens is apparent—maybe not the specifics, but tone at the very least. Flynn’s plotting is laid bare so its manipulations come across as more of a wink and smile than a sense of shock. And the visual style ends up merely servicing the story rather than becoming something all its own. There’s so much information for Fincher to jam in at once that the way it’s displayed almost proves complacent. But while such a signature enhanced The Social Network‘s straightforward progression, it grinds Gone Girl‘s thrills to a halt. I never fully engaged at my seat’s edge because following one revelation with the next in such quick succession made me numb to their impact. Just like the watered-down adaptation of Bolt relinquished skepticism at the truth for tickled laughter, I felt fun above anxiety.
And maybe that was the goal—I know a ton of people absolutely love this film. After all, it does remain almost as exhilarating as the source with brilliant performances that will only shine brighter upon subsequent viewings. Perry is a surprising delight as Bolt; Pyle a hoot; and Dickens and Fugit bring their characters to life with exacting accuracy. Barney Stinson is still too ingrained in me to truly applaud Neil Patrick Harris who played Desi with a surplus comedic machinations and not enough malice, but Coon follows her stirring debut in“The Leftovers” with a welcome dose of dark comic relief via Margot’s unfiltered relationship with the ever-disappointing Nick. As for Affleck and Pike, you couldn’t ask for more. He’s the epitome of smug, confused anger; she the breathtakingly complex creature my labeling appropriately would spoil too much.
Like the novel, Fincher’s film inevitably reaches just below its potential. An engrossing checkout aisle mystery, the story’s limitations remain intact. I would have loved to see Fincher try and overcome them rather than simply deliver a carbon copy hindered by a length only helping to shed light on those imperfections. I can’t stop thinking how great it could have been as a miniseries with each reveal building through satisfactory suspense rather than checkpoint precision. Delving deeper into Nick’s rage during Act Two and expounding upon Amy’s tragic life and her coping mechanism would have done wonders. Fincher and Flynn ensure we get the gist to stay on point and enjoy the roller coaster, but I’d rather ninety-degree drops than bunny hills. I also still find the end too cute when blood would be so much sweeter.
Rating: R | Runtime: 149 minutes | Release Date: October 3rd, 2014 (USA)
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Director(s): David Fincher
Writer(s): Gillian Flynn / Gillian Flynn (novel)