Director: David Fincher
Actors: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Missi Pyle, Tyler Perry
Writers: Gillian Flynn (screenplay and novel)
Runtime: 145 min
Creating a suspenseful and engaging mystery thriller can pose quite the challenge, even to experienced filmmakers. These films must reveal their stories in an exciting manner that keeps audiences glued to the screen, but must be careful never to give away too much too quickly. Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel Gone Girl used an ingenious structure to create an intriguing mystery and kept readers guessing as to the truth until its final pages. Now, director David Fincher attempts to replicate Flynn’s success with a film version of the same name. Although Gone Girl (2014) the film is quite good, it does fall short of creating the same effect and therefore having the same impact as the source novel.
When Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) reports that his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) has gone missing on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, he appears to be a husband genuinely concerned about his partner’s safety. As the police begin their investigation and the public catches wind of the story, however, any illusions of domestic bliss within the Dunne household quickly evaporate. Nick rapidly falls under suspicion, and a treasure hunt left to him by his wife as a supposed anniversary present reveals increasingly damning evidence. This complex and layered narrative hides much more than it reveals, however, and each scene presents a new twist rendering it impossible to determine just what occurred, and whether or not Nick did indeed murder his own wife.
Once again, Ben Affleck proves that he is undeserving of the bad reputation that he has been saddled with as an actor. Nick initially appears likeable enough, yet Affleck presents him in a manner that casts doubt as to his innocence in subtle ways. A viewer may be unsure as to where their sympathies should lie, but this inner conflict is a positive reaction as it adds depth to one’s emotional response to the work. Personally, I found myself rooting for Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens), a dedicated and gutsy investigator who knows that all is not as it appears, and who gained my sympathy as it could not be allotted to the protagonists.
To make matters even more complicated, director Fincher does not present his story chronologically, but jumps around in time instead. His filming is highly stylized, and he often uses juxtapositions to unsettle a viewer, such as horrific words delivered in a soothing tone, or a score that gently lulls even as it accompanies images of brutality. Although these choices may seem to be at odds with one another, Fincher effectively creates a disturbing and decidedly creepy thriller without resorting to typical tension-generating techniques. His suspense is a slow-burning fire that builds in intensity so subtly that one may not even notice that they have become uneasily and emotionally involved.
All that being said, however, this film is not without its flaws. Although Flynn wrote both the book and film versions of the work, I do not feel as though this particular mystery was as well suited to the latter form. Without giving anything away, I can say that the configuration of the piece is very particular. While this structure created fascination in the book, it felt a little bit tedious in the film, and the work dragged on too long for my liking. In addition, dialogue that I do not remember disliking in the novel sounded contrived when delivered by actors, generating a few laughable moments that may not have been intended to be funny.
Overall, Gone Girl is an enjoyable mystery film that benefits from a stylized tone and a unique, twisty form that keeps viewers guessing. No other story has been told quite like this one, and it will be impossible for viewers who have not read the book to predict what is around every corner. Although we may not particularly like any of the characters on the screen, we are still imbued with an overwhelming desire to see the mystery solved. Those who are already familiar with the work may enjoy seeing the story brought to life, but they also run the risk of disappointment that inevitably comes along with all page to screen adaptations.