Books on Film – Gone Girl Review

As I’ve mentioned previously on the blog, David Fincher is one of my favourite directors so when I’d heard that he was directing Gone Girl I was intrigued.  Although, I felt that the novel loses its way in the final chapters, I did enjoy it and thought it had a suitably Hitchcockian take on the crime thriller. The story is a modern take on the classic potboiler – murder, mayhem and maguffin fully intact.

It’s actually a little difficult to review Gone Girl without giving the game away since much of the joy of both film and novel comes from the long series of plot twists and it would be unfair of a reviewer give much of anything away.  The basic (non spoiler) premise revolves around Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) and her husband Nick (Ben Affleck).  On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick returns home to find his house ransacked and his wife missing. Through a series of entries from Amy’s diary (viewed in flashback in the movie) and through the development of the criminal investigation, we learn that Nick and Amy had been having problems in their relationship. Evidence begins to mount against Nick and a media frenzy has the public baying for his blood. The novel then becomes a question of what is the truth? Who’s version of events do we believe – Amy’s diary or Nicks testimony? Are relationships really built on the lies we tell each other and the lies we tell ourselves?

The movie is a reasonably faithful re-telling of the book (albeit with several subplot strands removed for the sake of pace) with one key exception. The third act finale is re-written to make it more cine-friendly. In early interviews Affleck and Gillian Flynn (who was drafted in as screenwriter) suggested that she had changed the climax of the piece so dramatically for the film as to turn it into a different story altogether.  Well, it’s not half as dramatic as all that.  If anything the ending is a subtle improvement to the novels last act. Having read the book I found the ending a bit laboured and silly.  If anything the ‘new’ ending tidies it all up a bit, renders the plot twists slightly more believable and the overall effect is a positive one.

Of course there are other elements in the book that take a back seat in the movie too, for example the relationships between Nick, Amy’s parents and his own are given only scant attention, but, given that the movie is already nearly two and a half hours long, the edit seems a reasonable choice. Fans of the book won’t be disappointed and filmgoers won’t feel like the movie is just a love letter to the novel’s fans. It’s a delicate balancing act and one that Fincher and Co. pull off very well.

Fincher is something of a master in converting books to screen (I’ve discussed my thoughts on this further here) and whatever you think of his movies he is one of the best directors in the business today (This short video by Tony Zhou explains eloquently why this is the case).  His skill as a movie director makes it difficult to avert your eyes even when the most appalling things are happening.

The Fincher canon also suggests a movie director who is clearly a misanthrope.  Characters in his movies are rarely pleasant human beings and he always appears drawn to the darker side of human existence. In this way, it’s easy to see why he might have been drawn to a novel like Gone Girl.  However, his misanthropic tendencies have generated some criticism of the movie particularly from a more feminist point of view.  Driven in part by the choice of Affleck in the main male role Nick, is a more affable character in movie than in the novel, and several of the more sympathetic female characters are more two dimensionally drawn or given a back seat to the narrative. Thus Fincher’s misanthropic view is made more stark by these contrasts but it also opens the movie to accusations of misogyny.  An article in the Slate recently criticised Fincher’s depiction of the ‘cool girl’ speech and how it departs from the novel. They have a point. While the novel has Amy criticising the concept of the ‘cool girl’, the Fincher take has Amy criticising ‘cool girls’.

That said, it would be unfair to dismiss this film as an exercise in sexism. Virtually all of the secondary female characters are subject in their own right. They make their own decisions and take their own actions. None are waiting around for a male character to make a decision on their behalf (if anything this seems to be what Nick does a lot of the time).

At it’s core, Gone Girl is a hitchcockian noir-esque potboiler for the 21st century and a very good one at that. Arguably this is the benchmark against which the movie should be judged. In this context then it is an excellent film and one that will appeal to both fans of the novel and newcomers to the story alike.

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