Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl was an immediate sensation when it was released in the summer of 2012, spending eight weeks at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list and permeating the culture in the way few books do anymore.
Part of its popularity likely stems from it very much being a novel of our time, touching on the media’s penchant for sensationalizing crime while also asking relevant questions about male-female relationships and whether we can ever really know the people with whom we choose to spend our lives.
Almost immediately it became clear the novel would be ripe for a cinematic adaptation, which finally arrived this past weekend in theaters around the country.
It seemed entirely possible the film version could be an entertaining but unremarkable project that would come and go without much fanfare, but that was before David Fincher signed on to direct it. The man in charge of The Social Network, Zodiac and Seven, Fincher is arguably one of the top-five working directors and one of the few whose films have a clear style and look. Go back and watch any of his films, and almost all seem to be working from the same muted, desaturated palette that immediately set a somewhat grim mood.
Add in a top-flight cast that includes Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry, among others, and Gone Girl immediately became one of the most anticipated films of 2014.
Fortunately, the hype has been justified and Gone Girl is an extremely faithful and effective adaptation of the novel. Despite rumors on the contrary during production, little of the plot has changed in the film version.
Nick (Affleck) and Amy (Pike) are a married couple who meet cute and marry, living and working in New York City as magazine writers until the recession hits and both lose there jobs, forcing them to move back to Nick’s podunk hometown in Missouri. These story elements are told in flashback and narrated by Amy as entries in her journal. They are interspersed with the present day storyline, in which Nick discovers Amy has gone missing from their home on the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary.
The first hour traces the beginning stages of the investigation as the police get involved and Nick increasingly becomes a suspect under fire from local investigators and nitwit media fascimiles of Nancy Grace. It’s during this portion of the film Affleck shines in one of his best performances. No stranger to tabloid scrutiny in his own personal life, Affleck brings believability to a deeply flawed man who may or may not be a murderer caving in under the police and media attention as he tries to protest his innocence.
During this first act or so, the film is simply gathering steam and arguments that this could turn out to be the most well-made Lifetime movie have some merit. Just as in the novel though, it’s at the one-hour mark in the film where the narrative’s huge twist is unveiled and the proverbial shit hits the fan.
As the film goes through numerous twists and turns, the insanity of the storyline is ratcheted up and it begins taking on elements of a pitch-black dark comedy without losing any of its dramatic weight or pure creepiness. None of its played for comedy, but laughs are derived based simply on a reaction to the insanity taking place on screen.
As strong as Affleck is here, the most memorable performance, and the one that lingers afterwards, comes from Pike, a relative unknown who is maybe best remembered before this film for playing one of James Bond’s conquests in Die Another Day more than 10 years ago. Pike is called upon to deliver the trickiest performance in the film, creating a fairly complex character while showing very little outward emotion.
To talk about it further will require jumping into spoiler territory so if you haven’t read the novel or seen the film yet, scroll past the italics and continue reading.
Once it’s revealed midway through that Amy has staged her kidnapping in order to frame Nick for her murder, it allows Pike to take over the film and begin delivering an incredible performance as a total sociopath who is pretty much always in complete control of herself. There will be some that argue Pike’s performance left them flat, but her iciness is the whole point. She is effectively menacing in her ability to never lose composure. Her final scene with Harris’ Desi is the most horrifying in the film, and Pike has a moment later on where she silently reacts to a question from the police and her expression is one of the most subtly terrifying things I’ve seen on film in a while. This character is truly a monster and a lot of fun to watch. My only real disappointment with the film is that even at 2 ½ hours, the final act feels somewhat rushed and I wish we could have lingered a little longer on the horror of the characters’ situation.
Along with Affleck and Pike, the performances all around are top-notch. Harris is well cast as Amy’s wealthy former boyfriend who is basically playing a much dumber version of Barney from How I Met Your Mother. Making a rare appearance in front of the camera and not in drag as Madea, Perry exudes charm as Affleck’s high-powered attorney who ends up getting the best line in the film (the theater I saw the film in exploded with laughter when it was delivered). He shares some of the best comedic moments with Carrie Coon, who plays Affleck’s bewildered and sarcastic sister Margo. One of the standouts from this past summer’s The Leftovers on HBO, Coon is emerging as a formidable talent.
Gone Girl is already being touted as a possible Oscar contender this winter, but it’s probably too early to say it’s a shoo-in for a slew of nominations. Affleck, and especially, Pike and Fincher are all doing award-caliber work here and though the narrative is pretty ridiculous, so is nearly every thriller and this is about as well-made a thriller as it gets. That said, thrillers don’t always get a ton of award attention.
Much of Gone Girl’s staying power will probably depend on if it’s a box-office success. The film is off to a good start and was the top domestic earner in its opening weekend, tallying an estimated $38 million. The key will be whether word of mouth is strong and the box office receipts stay consistent. If the film turns into anything like the cultural phenomenon the novel was, we could be hearing a lot about Gone Girl over the next few months.