Gone Girl **** (out of five)
I remember still, very specifically, my decision to cease reading Gone Girl, the huge bestseller of 2012 by Gillian Flynn: it was making me depressed. Its worldview really got to me, and I was feeling grim and prickly because of it. Its depiction of the most basic human relationship, being “the relationship”, was bleak and nasty. A day or two without reading anymore of it, I felt better. Besides, it was badly written.
David Fincher’s extremely faithful adaptation of the book, scripted by Flynn, has left the same cold metallic and yucky taste in my mouth, but in a good way – indeed, in a really good way. I was reading the book over at least a week, but I can take feeling prickly and shifty about relationships for an afternoon, rather than going to sleep with it night after night. Also, the world of Gone Girl is far, far more enjoyable on screen than it was in the pretty loathsome novel.
Of all Fincher’s films, this one is closest in style, tone and vibe to Zodiac, sharing in particular that film’s methodical, dogged pacing, certainly not fast but sure-footed and stately, measured and precise, surely influenced by the rhythm of police investigation. Like Zodiac, it’s a long film (two and half hours on the nose; Zodiac was two and three quarters) and it’s got a very similar colour palette, which is essentially shades of grey (funny that). When it’s a police procedural – and a fair amount of it is a police procedural – the resemblances would be uncanny, except, of course, there’s nothing uncanny about an artist painting in a particular way because that’s, for him, what the material demands.
Zodiac had an epic feel but Gone Girl is very intimate; it only really has six characters of note and it’s really only about two of them. And that’s a big part of it’s icky allure: it’s as claustrophobic as a smothering relationship; even though our main couple, Nick and Amy Dunne (Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike) live in a spacious house (which is by far the film’s primary location) they live in a very small town, and, when Amy goes missing, the media’s gaze, with its attendant (literal) spotlights, becomes a very small room indeed for Nick.
Nick’s got a cat, and, in one (seemingly) throwaway shot, we see that cat illuminated by scores of the media’s camera flashes before a door shuts them out; it is a brilliant moment, a Fincher moment, a true cinema moment: such an image would simply not play in a book and resonate on so many levels as it does here. Everything about Fincher’s films is precise, and every decision is fully committed: even the opening actor credits are whipped away from us a millisecond or two too soon, leaving us edgy. It’s all deliberate and it all works, because Fincher knows what he’s doing.
The Godfather and Jaws are always used to demonstrate how great movies can be made out of potboiler, “airport”, bestseller, low-brow – whatever you want to call them – books. I’ve always completely gone along with this, and so has Fincher. He’s the modern master of the book-to-big-screen adaptation, and he doesn’t do “literary” source material. He turns his hand to pulp and spins gold out of it. And bless him for it. I didn’t finish the book of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, either.
The performances are all excellent. Affleck has the hardest role – by far – and pulls it off, dare I say, perfectly. I have rarely given him kudos as an actor – her ruined his own film, The Town, with his performance – but he’s spot-on here, on-screen in almost every scene and getting all the little gradations – and there are many little gradations – right. There is no room for generalisation in Affleck’s role, and he rises to the occasion as precisely as Fincher demands.
I loved Kim Dickens, an actress I’ve always admired on television (specifically in Treme and Deadwood) as the cop; Carrie Coon, a Chicago-based theatre actor, as the twin sister; and Tyler Perry, who is a huge entertainment titan in the US but essentially unknown in Australia, where his films go unreleased, as the lawyer. I was less wowed by Rosamund Pike as Amy and Neil Patrick Harris as a suspect in her disappearance, but their roles are less grounded than the others and more prone to a slightly gimmicky approach. The weren’t bad, they were just a little bigger than the others.
Fincher doesn’t make bad movies and this is a very good one. Of his nine features, I’m going to put this on my list at number four, after Zodiac, The Social Network and Fight Club. That’s good company, on one hell of a list.