With his wife’s disappearance having become the focus of an intense media circus, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when it’s suspected that he may not be innocent.
Year 3, Film #30
THE GOOD: Gone Girl is deeply nuanced and filled with many tiny details that make your head spin trying to sort it all out. It’s also very overt and in-your-face quite often, leading to some shocking and unexpected twists that will leave your jaw hanging, or more likely, cringing at the explicit violence and gore that David Fincher does best.
I’m put in the interesting situation with Gone Girl because I’ve actually read the book by Gillian Flynn (who also adapted the screenplay) before I saw this film (something that usually never happens). Having read the book beforehand, you would assume that all the twists and revelations would be lost on me this time around in the film since I already know everything that happens; seeing it on film won’t be any different. The surprising thing is, I was still taken aback by the big moments and found myself not necessarily surprised, but certainly startled, at the twists which form the foundation for the story.
And that’s what is so amazingly well-done by David Fincher in this adaptation. He gets the benefits of the higher-level, structural stuff which was all laid out by Gillian Flynn in the novel, but Fincher also does something that I’ve never seen done as well as in this film: the deeper-level stuff. One of the biggest elements often missing in a film adaptation is, when applicable, character’s thoughts from the first-person. In books, you can read the characters mind, know what they’re thinking, and why they react to something in a specific way. Being able to do that with writing is one of the things that makes that medium so special. With film, this is either overlooked (as in The Hunger Games and Divergent among others; Game of Thrones is a great example in television) or the filmmakers try to include these first-person additions, often in voice-over (Eat Pray Love and The Lovely Bones being two examples). The problem with voice-over is that it’s too straightforward and in your face. If literature is the medium for expressing first-person thoughts, film is the medium for showing them. And while show-don’t-tell is one of the main tenants of filmmaking you’re taught early on, it is a simple and easy way to convey some information that’s vital to character and story development.
David Fincher accomplished something I thought to be impossible, or at least very near impossible, and that is to transfer the tone and style of the book (what is widely considered to be one of the best aspects of the novel) into the film. In other words, it’s a great adaptation. We get the same story, same characters, and same setting, but we also get a feel for all these in a truly filmic way. To give just one concrete example, here is one of my favorite lines from the novel, one of Nick Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) thoughts:
A lot of people lacked that gift: knowing when to fuck off. People love talking, and I have never been a huge talker. I carry on an inner monologue, but the words often don’t reach my lips. She looks nice today, I’d think, but somehow it wouldn’t occur to me to say it out loud. My mom talked, my sister talked. I’d been raised to listen.
We don’t hear this line in the film, because to do so would require Ben Affleck to do a voice-over. There also really isn’t any explicit mention or reference to let us know that this is how Nick Dunne thinks and feels. But through a combination of David Fincher and Gillian Flynn’s adaptation skills, and the wonderful and spot-on talent found throughout the cast, this thought is still conveyed to the audience. We never go explicitly into the minds of the characters, but we’re left with the impression that we do. To be able to convert what’s so often well-done in writing to something rarely done even half as well in film, to be able to transfer the DNA of what made Gone Girl so great as a novel, is outstanding and leads to a fantastic Gone Girl film.
THE BAD: While Gone Girl was able to benefit from the best parts of the novel, it also fell into some of the same traps. My biggest complaint (only complaint?) with the novel is the ending. For so much build-up, suspense, and mystery early on in the novel, the ending is only about forty pages long and is written in short, quick vignettes almost; just brief glimpses of individual moments. The film improved on the novel a little bit, primarily by extending these snippets out and trying to make them more substantial and meaningful, but the end result was pretty much the same: there is no resolution.
It’s been suggested to me that maybe the story was meant to have no resolution, that perhaps it’s up to you to decide what happens after the last page or the last frame of film.The more I think about this possibility, the more I’ve grown to accept it as the intention (of both Flynn, and in this case Fincher). However, the fact still remains that this intention is not clearly communicated. All throughout the film, we get these notions and ideas built up inside our heads, we’re swept through from scene to scene waiting to see what happens next. It’s a very energetic and aggressive film. Then you get to the end and it’s the polar opposite. It’s like slamming on the brakes to avoid crashing into the care in front of you but the air bag still manages to go off because you were still going too fast. It would be one thing to continue the break-neck highway speed of the first two-thirds of the film for the last third and end with things unresolved. It’s quite another to start going in the opposite direction and leave things up in the air. The idea might be the right one, but everything we see tells us it isn’t.
THE TAKEAWAY: I spent a lot of this review going back-and-forth between talking about the novel by Gillian Flynn and the film by David Fincher. The reason for that is Gone Girl is such a great adaptation, I see the two as interchangeable; each as a companion to the other. The cast matches the characters across the board and everyone delivers solid performances that bring this story of conniving, deceit, love, infidelity, and a whole host of other treacherous adjectives, to life. All the twists and turns are there to make you constantly second-guess yourself and keep you invested to the end. Gone Girl may share the same pitfalls as the novel does, but these are nothing compared to the thrill you get climbing up to the top of the mountain.
THE RATING: 4 out of 5