A Year of Unlimited #8 – Gone Girl

This is the latest in a series of blogs I’ve called “A Year of Unlimited”, which isn’t perhaps the catchiest way to put it, but encapsulates my attempts to blog about every film I see while I’m signed up to the Unlimited service. I’m not linking to every one, so go and find them yourselves!

I had been looking forward to Gone Girl for a long, long time until seeing it this week – and the wait was not in vain. If you don’t like bleak thrillers, or any of David Fincher’s previous films, you’re missing out, but this might not be for you.

Adapting perhaps the most David Fincher-friendly novel possible (grim, bleak, shocking at times), Gone Girl is based on the smash book (an excellent read whether or not you want to see the film) analysing a woman’s disappearance, and the speculation surrounding her husband. In the hands of the director of SevenThe Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Zodiac, a film based on this sort of plot was always likely to be a good match, but the slick, dark and blackly hilarious novel – and what it has to say about characters, motivations and trust – is more or less THE perfect film for David Fincher to make.

As mentioned above, the disappearance of Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) sees her schlubby hubby Nick (Ben Affleck) painted by the media and locals as her possible murderer – but nothing is as it seems. To say any more of the plot would be to ruin its surprise – all you need to know is in the title and the shortest synopsis. It’s how the story runs away from what you think it might be that makes the novel (and now the film) so interesting.

David Fincher is probably one of my favourite directors for the simple fact that he focuses on tone, tension and intensity – all three of which combine to make his films engrossing, often repellent and always uncompromising (in my opinion – yours may differ, and I’m not even considering Benjamin Button here, which I choose to ignore exists).

Gone Girl the novel oozes with unsettling dread, chapter-by-chapter twists and a gnawing sense of excitement as it all falls together, and I was reminded of Seven, of Dragon Tattoo and of Zodiac because of this. Even when (especially in the case of Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl) the story was not his to force his vision and method on from the start, the adaptations absorb something else – some sort of editing or directorial vision – that I feel pushes them on to be better, in many ways, than the original stories.

Having written my dissertation on adaptation from books to film, I often think about adaptations of books I’ve read by bearing in mind that: A) not everything you may have enjoyed will have made it in; B) the characters and setting may not match your mind’s creation of the events in the book; and C) what works or doesn’t work in the novel may not work or may work in the film. This film manages to balance the three aspects and mostly – nearly – met my highest expectations

Look closely at the poster once you've seen the film for a genius bit of foreshadowing.
Look closely at the poster once you’ve seen the film for a genius bit of foreshadowing.

I talked about adapting books into films in my review of Before I Go To Sleep a few weeks ago, and Gone Girl offers a very rare example of an adaptation scripted by the author of the book it’s based upon – and in this case, Gillian Flynn’s presence as screenwriter helps immeasurably, because the shocks, dark laughs and intrigue she embedded in the novel are present here. All David Fincher needs to do is bring the visual style, but he adds his own touch to create a great film, whilst maintaining nearly everything Flynn created on-screen.

Fincher’s cinematographer, Jeff Cronenweth, has given the director’s films a grimy, digital sheen for a number of years now, and this film actually felt more colourful at times. However, its largely processed and dark-tinged appearance accentuates its ever-bleaker twists and momentum, and unlike, say, Seven’s grey and grim dystopia, this film uses light and white colours to sometimes highlight the very opposite. particularly in one unforgettable set of scenes towards the end.

The two stars are perfectly cast for different reasons – Rosamund Pike for many reasons that I can’t share for fear of spoiling anything, but mostly because she is a great, underrated actress who isn’t afraid; and Ben Affleck because he uses his own life experiences, and people’s perceptions of him (both good and bad), to plant seeds of doubt and uncertainty in the audience in every action he undertakes; every word he says.

Some members of the supporting cast are excellent too – Tyler Perry brings laughter as a hotshot lawyer, whilst Carrie Coon offers comedy and an emotional cipher for the audience as Nick’s bemused but supportive twin sister Margo. Kim Dickens also impresses as the cop on the case of Amy’s disappearance, while How I Met Your Mother fans will either be astonished or disturbed by Neil Patrick Harris’ appearance as a former boyfriend of Amy’s.

I may be biased here, but special mention goes to the soundtrack from Nine Inch Nail’s Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. I’m an unashamed NIN fan, and own the previous soundtracks he’s made for Fincher, but the music in this film is further evidence they should never stop collaborating. Tasked to make music that sounds like “massage or spa soundtracks gone wrong”, Reznor has made what I think is his best soundtrack yet, with synth, drums, bleeps and even strings punctuating silences and adding to the high degree of discomfort already present in both the book and Fincher’s filmography.

If I can have a complaint about this film at all, it’s that it didn’t jettison the book’s conclusion, which I was led to believe (from a lot of speculation ahead of release) it would. The ending in the novel is infuriating, yet slightly understandable given the story changes ahead of it, but I would have liked to have seen something different attempted on-screen.

Overall, Gone Girl is a near-perfect adaptation of the novel, in my mind complementing it perfectly by recreating its twisted genius on the big screen through the only director that I think could have possibly done so.

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