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​Long gone: Is Fincher’s twisty adaptation an awards-season contender?

Cinema | October 21st, 2014

WARNING: The following review reveals key plot information. Read only if you have seen “Gone Girl.”

Gillian Flynn, author of the bestselling novel “Gone Girl,” hit the Hollywood jackpot. She A) got to adapt her own screenplay without having to share any screen credit; B) had the fortune of finding David Fincher at the directorial helm; C) saw her characters brought to life by talent like Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike; D) all of the above. At its best, Flynn’s page-turner explores the domestic battle for control and the struggle for married partners to live up to and/or fulfill masculine and feminine expectations. At its worst, the book is a trashy, outlandish potboiler that embraces many of the clichés of the mystery thriller genre.

Flynn’s novel, which alternates between the voices of shitty husband Nick Dunne (Affleck) and psychotic wife Amy Elliott Dunne (Pike), recounts the variety of ways each spouse has been wronged by the other. When Amy disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary, Nick is – obviously, perfectly, absolutely – the principal suspect. Flynn borrows the twist from Hitchcock’s masterpiece “Vertigo,” revealing on page 219 (of 415) that Amy is alive, with the words “I’m so much happier now that I’m dead.” Turns out Amy meticulously planned the ruse, staged the crime scene, and planted overwhelming evidence against her husband before lamming it. At this point some readers struggle with the placement of their allegiance.

Fincher’s movie retains Flynn’s shifting perspectives, but the faithful presentation of the events in the novel in the same order in which they occur on the page biases the viewer on behalf of Nick (I had hoped, like some readers, that Fincher might have taken the opportunity to mess around with the chronology). As a result, there is very little Pike can do to bring the inscrutable Amy to life as a thoroughly realized, recognizably human character. She’s as icy as Sharon Stone’s fellow writer Catherine Trammell and Kim Novak’s manipulative Madeleine Elster, just not as captivating. Even if Flynn and Fincher are suggesting we aren’t supposed to know Amy, the ploy doesn’t entirely pan out.

It’s not fair to compare Flynn’s dialogue to the wizardry of Aaron Sorkin, whose invented conversations in “The Social Network” make most of the chatter in “Gone Girl” sound like reheated leftovers from an old Lifetime movie. Fincher also had the good sense to limit the entire history of the origins of Facebook to two swiftly paced hours, while “Gone Girl” bobs along at a more leisurely 149 minutes. Fortunately, the late arrivals of Tyler Perry as a smooth defense attorney and Neil Patrick Harris as one of Amy’s old boyfriends inject a refreshing shot of winking “can you believe this?” mirth when it is most needed.

The most ardent defenders of “Gone Girl” will make claims about Fincher’s interest in exploring gender roles, the pressures brought to bear (on the upper class no less!) by the flaccid economy, and the ways in which the media distorts reality. My inclination is to focus instead on the things that really worked in the transfer of novel to movie: the ridiculous and over-the-top streaks of black comedy that threaten to align the film with the likes of lurid “erotic mystery thrillers” like “Fatal Attraction,” “Basic Instinct,” “Sliver,” “Color of Night,” and “Jade.” “Gone Girl” is better than most of those movies, but not as good as Fincher’s finest. 

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