During its 149 minutes, David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel appears to be setting itself up as a lot of things: a traditional missing-person procedural with a disturbing finale, an emotional drama filled with social commentary on domestic violence, a Hitchcockian mystery with a groundbreaking twist. In fact, it is really none of these things: Gone Girl is at heart an absurdist comedy about, as celebrity lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) puts it, “some really fucked-up people”.
The first hour of the film, which comprises almost all of the footage featured in the trailers and promotional material, sees Ben Affleck’s Nick Dunne return home on his wedding anniversary to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing. Simultaneously, we are shown flashbacks to his and Amy’s meeting and early relationship, told from Amy’s perspective. The two sides of the story match up for a while, before both go in very different directions and Nick and Amy both becomes very unreliable narrators. Affleck’s everyman quality and Pike’s radiance make them both instantly appealing characters, and as their individual traits come to the fore, the audience’s loyalties become questionable and the film really starts to get interesting.
Flynn has adapted her own novel for the screen, and as her first screenplay, she couldn’t possibly have done a better job. The transitioning between Nick’s present and Amy’s “diary entry” narration is somewhat clunky for half-an-hour or so, but the seamless editing between both character’s perspectives for the remainder of the film compensates for this. Affleck truly proves himself as a superb dramatic actor in Gone Girl, conveying Nick’s inner dishonesty in his eyes and twitching mouth in a manner which we haven’t seen in a major actor for years. Pike, on the other hand, is the true on-screen standout of the film, as beautiful as she is terrifying- the perfect mix of Hitchcock femme fatale and David Lynch psychopath. Her actions throughout the film are at times so unforgivably inhumane that it’s left to the excellent Carrie Coon as Nick’s sympathetic twin sister Margo to remind the (male) audience that most women aren’t like Amy Dunne!
Fincher has time and time again proven himself to be one of mainstream Hollywood’s finest visual storytellers, and outdoes himself once again with the beautiful cinematography and mix of great editing and score that made The Social Network such a brilliant film. The film, largely marketed as a dark, gritty thriller, is at some moments so absurd that it requires a great deal of humour to succeed in telling the Dunnes’ story, and Fincher achieves the varying tone perfectly.
Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry, two successful comedians known for cross-dressing, take on rare dramatic roles here, with the latter probably the more successful- possibly because he’s a terrible comedian and has been on the wrong career path all along! It’s difficult to take Harris seriously when he’s essentially playing a slighter creepier version of How I Met Your Mother‘s Barney Stinson, and the Very Bad Thing that happens to him in the film’s penultimate act is, perhaps because of it’s tremendous unpleasantness, likely to cause any audience to descend into hysterics of laughter.
If Gone Girl is as big a financial success as it is expected to (and deserves to) be, it will not only prove that, with enough pre-release hype and big names, the mid-range film still has commercial potential, but that people will always love a great character study. Gone Girl is about as good a mainstream 149-minute character study as you’re going to see these days.