Gone Girl

Photo: Merrick Morton - TM and © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox and Regency Enterprises.

REVIEW: “Gone Girl” ★★★★ and ½

“Gone Girl” is a mesmerizing work of film, powered by a career-defining performance by Rosamund Pike.

Gone Girl could very well serve in the years to come as a model for how an author should approach adapting their own material for the screen.

Gillian Flynn’s screenplay captures all the most critical elements that made the novel so captivating and maddeningly frustrating at the same time. Fans of the novel will be pleased, and folks who haven’t read the novel may just want to after seeing the film, just to see for themselves how it all played out on the page.

What’s it about?

Gone Girl begins with former New York writer Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck, Argo) spending the early morning hours of his 5th wedding anniversary at the bar he owns drinking bourbon with his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon) and dreading how the rest of the day will most certainly go once he goes home.

A cleverly composed and constructed scavenger hunt meant to celebrate how well husband and wife know and love one another. Clues he’ll fail to figure out, prompting the irritation or outright anger of his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike, Jack Reacher).

More reminders of what an boorish, oblivious failure of a husband he must surely be for not being able to keep up with her after all this time.

But when he eventually goes home to get things over with, Amy’s gone, and there are signs of a struggle in their living room. He calls the police, and soon he has local police detectives combing through his and Amy’s home and lives together in search of clues to what happened to her.

As the search for answers moves forward, the story of Amy Elliot-Dunne’s disappearance becomes a national preoccupation. It dominates America’s 24-hour news cycle, and evidence pointing to Nick being guilty of something relating to the case begins to mount.

When even those closest to him beginning to question his version of what’s occurred, Nick feels the walls closing in. His behavior both in front of the cameras and away from them just makes him look worse.

But is he really a killer, or just a bad husband and a schlub? And just who was Amy Dunne, really, before she vanished that morning?

The truth is, of course, nothing that should be disclosed in any amount of detail here.

Gone Girl poster

Getting the novel right

A tremendous amount of credit is due to Flynn for effectively adapting her own novel into screenplay form. Gone Girl the novel has a lot within its pages that needs to find its way to the screen for the film to feel true to the source.

Flynn’s screenplay not only succeeds in retaining a majority of these signature elements, but keeps them all in balance. The implications and the message in the satire are clear as day without intruding on the mystery that audiences are there to see and enjoy.

It’s a remarkable achievement, one that should earn Flynn at least some consideration for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar next year.

Similarly, a lot of credit must go to director David Fincher and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth. In their previous collaborations, a signature visual aesthetic was established, and fans of those films will certainly see that aesthetic at work in this film as well in a setting the filmmakers have never before applied it to: American Midwestern suburbia.

Manicured lawns, well-appointed houses, the very vision of the American dream in America’s heartland are all cast in Fincher and Cronenweth’s creeping shadows, darkened interior spaces and pale, yellowish light. He creates discomfort in the spaces audiences might most readily associate with comfort, affluence, and happiness.

The intimate spaces in the film all feel wrong, which is the perfect complimentary effect to the scenes playing out in them.

Pitch perfect casting

But it’s this film’s pitch perfect cast and their chemistry together that should make both audiences and critics sit up and take notice.

Rosamund Pike is at all times compelling and convincing as the brilliant and complex Amy Elliot-Dunne. It’s a nuanced and controlled performance that should have the same effect on her career that Basic Instinct had on Sharon Stone’s career over two decades ago.

For his part, Affleck is a great choice to play Nick. The role calls for a performer who can play both charming and deeply flawed. Affleck has plenty of experience with such roles, going back to 1997’s Chasing Amy

He portrays Nick with just enough edge, just enough capacity for dishonesty, that as an audience member you’d most likely be wondering about his shadiness, anyway. 

Worth seeing?

Now for those wondering if there’s any need to see the film at all if you’ve read the book and you know its secrets and twists, rest assured that you should. Flynn has made just enough changes in the screenplay to keep fans of the novel on their toes.

But no doubt it will be those who don’t know the whole story going into Gone Girl that will enjoy it the most. It’s so compelling that you’ll wish it was a book — that way, you could skip to the end to see how it all plays out.

Gone Girl

Starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry. Directed by David Fincher.
Running Time: 149 minutes
Rated R for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language.