Written by Ankit Ojha
What to Expect
When Gillian Flynn released Gone Girl, little did the potential readers know that this was going to be the most uncomfortable thrill-ride of their lives. And when David Fincher was roped in for its then film adaptation to-be, I knew, at that very moment, that the source material could never get a visual respite any better than this.
Bestsellers come and go, and so do their film adaptations. Most of them are successful, and most of them are young-adult novels. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Does it get tiring eventually? Most definitely. The transition of Gone Girl from book to film, thus, marks a refreshing departure from the tried-and-tested crop of movie adaptations for three different reasons:
- David Fincher has almost always to be the director in demand for most virtually impossible-to-adapt or complex readable fiction. From films like Fight Club all the way to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Fincher’s been able to push the envelope in bringing seemingly difficult novels and stories to all their visual splendor that we’re now witness to.
- Flynn’s novel on its own had a payoff too discomforting to handle, so for that to be adapted to film, let alone be backed by 20th Century Fox – one of the biggest studios Hollywood’s gotten – have been an absolutely bold move by the makers on the whole.
- Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are definitely two of the most interesting casting choices for the leads, and one would most definitely like to see where this goes.
Of course, the hitches are one too many: this isn’t an adaptation of a young-adult book by a mile and a half, let alone a Nicholas Sparks novel. Affleck, despite being a powerhouse performer, seems to be bogged down by equal detractors as he has admirers. And to add to that, Pike hasn’t been able to push the envelope, despite showing extreme promise, through the films she’s gotten. The only film she literally shone in was 2011’s highly underrated comedy-drama The Big Year, which unfortunately underperformed.
Questions, questions and more questions are likely to bog the potential viewer down. But every single human being who’s picked up Flynn’s original source to the film will have definitely learnt never to judge a book by its cover.
What’s it About?
Two writers – Nick Dunne (Affleck; Argo) and Amy Elliott (Pike) meet, and sparks immediately fly. After a whirlwind courtship of two years, they decide to get married. Things seem perfect. But like they say, “Marriage is hard work.” And hard times eventually land up at their doorstep.
Things come crashing down on the day of their fifth marriage anniversary, when Amy suddenly disappears, leaving a hapless Nick to put the pieces together.
One can’t help but ask though – is Nick really hapless? Or is he happy Amy is gone? Could he have been responsible for her disappearance? Or is there something even worse in the cards?
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Fincher as a director is known for his dark, psychologically envelope-pushing films. From Se7en to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, he’s almost often obsessed with dealing with concepts and characters that are otherwise threateningly discomforting to portray commercially. The great thing is, he bounces back with a big film every now and then and keeps bringing back characters that are not just discomforting but also terribly realistic. The film adaptation of Gone Girl, thus, seems to be cut out just for him. With the help of Flynn (who also doubles as the screenwriter of the film), Fincher creates two completely different atmospheric tendencies in the same film. Starting off as a mystery drama, Fincher gets the perfect opportunity to build a first hour with two very specific uses:
- to perform a detailed set-up of the progressively dreary world the protagonists exist in; and also – and this is the most important
- to trap the viewers into a been-there-done-that lull.
The very lull for the first hour is the most impressive thing about the film. You witness – in parallel storytelling form – the disappearance of Amy, whilst also getting a solid background on their love story. And at this point in time, whilst rooting for Nick and Amy to have their happily-ever-after, you’re made to feel that the story is heading into dangerously predictable territory, despite Affleck and Pike’s warm chemistry. You’re fed only the information you want to be fed until the time you as a viewer feel like you’re in control. Then – without warning – the rugs are ever so rudely pulled off the viewers’ feet before they even remotely comprehend what’s happening. And with this begins a series of twists and turns that get by each shade darker and darker until all the limits have dangerously been crossed.
Flynn is not just a brilliant novelist but is also highly adept at screenwriting. While she’s kept the soul of the book very much intact, it is her rightful lack of indulgence that’s been able to produce such an absolutely sharp screenplay that – despite its fairly long runtime – doesn’t let go even for a single moment. She knows how, and most importantly when, to reveal her cards, and this is what makes the film have such a strong foundation.
This is exactly where Fincher comes in. Having been provided with a vast playing ground in the form of Flynn’s tightly written, well-layered screenplay, he gleefully makes use of it by combining his vision to direct an abundantly stylish, progressively dark drama-thriller that knows exactly when to ratchet up the tension levels, and – when it does – doesn’t let go at all. Using his regular collaborator Jeff Cronenweth (The Social Network), Fincher allows for an utmost focus in framing – almost as if the objects in the frame are telling the viewer something much louder than words can tell – and dramatic lighting. Tie that in with an almost doggedly-perfect steady camerawork and you’ve got your emotion of tension right here. From the gleaming cityscape to the warmth of the countryside, the production design is absolutely dynamic and allows instead to focus on how consecutively paradoxical the intimate countryside ends up turning itself into with the film’s progressive sinisterness. And while most of the places look picture-perfect (as would Amazing Amy be), it’s the people who are given a lot of focus to, with their characters being brilliantly written in all of their maniacal grandeur. Kirk Baxter, who – along with Angus Wall – has been in constant collaboration with Fincher since Baxter’s own big break in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, edits solo this time. Understands the film well enough, he performs some absolutely well decided, well-timed match cuts that are almost as insanely brought together as is the film. It’s no wonder, thus, that he’s been part of two absolutely worthy Academy Award wins. And if all of that technical filmmaking brilliance isn’t enough, the eclectic electronic score by the Academy Award-winning duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) ramps up the tension levels and the drama to ridiculously unprecedented highs.
But then, that’s how Fincher is. He wants everything perfect. And perfect it is.
To Perform or Not to Perform
As always, I’ve been able to maintain that Ben Affleck is a brilliant performer, much to the chagrin of a lot of people I know. Here too, he doesn’t disappoint one single bit. Nick Dunne is an absolutely restrained character with shades of social awkwardness and layers and layers of complex – abrupt, almost – emotion. For him to have been played by anyone else would now be unimaginable, as Affleck dons the role of Dunne to the T. The real surprise, however, is Rosamund Pike, for whom this is THE film of her career so far. With a performance that will shock as much as it will involve, Pike imbibes Amy Dunne like nobody else would. Right from her body language to her expressions all the way to the absolutely raw emotions and dialogues she’s able to perform to, she surprises you with every move she makes on screen. It’s almost needless to say that she’s OUTSTANDING in this film with a performance that has absolutely high potential to become an instant favorite at the Oscars, the Globes and every other respectable list of Best Actress nominations in this year. Affleck and Pike are blessed with fantastic chemistry, and with layers abound to their characters, both their performances end up becoming a dazzlingly spectacular watch.
If there’s anyone who’s a major surprise in the film, it most definitely has to be Tyler Perry (Alex Cross). Known otherwise for the absolutely dubious movies he’s been a part of – and has also made (sigh) – this, without doubt, had to be the most eccentric casting choice for a film of this stature, on paper at the very least. Of course, the brilliant casting team knew what they were doing, because he’s yet another excellent addition to the film. Being absolutely believable in his role as the suave, crafty criminal lawyer, he makes his point known and delivers a fantastic performance. Neil Patrick Harris (television’s How I Met Your Mother) turns up in a comparatively serious avatar relative to his contrasting image. His performance might seem clunky in the first few reels. By the time his rather small character reaches his culmination, there are chances the viewer may understand why the choice of Harris and the kind of performance. Not that it’s going to be very easy to digest though; there will be an absolutely large chunk of viewers who won’t warm up to his performance. Harris, however, delivers, in his own way. Carrie Coon (television’s The Leftovers) is yet another impressive addition as Nick’s sister Margo. She feels like an absolutely realistic character you’d meet almost everyday and you’d expect a rough, and yet well-meaning, conversation from. With a dynamic emotive range and some very convincing dialogue delivery, she comes off being quite able enough to engrave her performance in the viewers’ minds. Kim Dickens (Thank You for Smoking) is a competent actress who’s able to look absolutely convincing as her hardboiled detective. Emily Ratajkowski is efficient. Tommy O’Hara, in his short role, puts forth a convincing act. David Clennon and Lisa Banes, who portray the respective roles of Amy’s parents, are warm – just like the character should be. Others are efficient.
Absolutely – no questions asked! With a shockingly able source material, translated to screen ably by Fincher and Flynn, Gone Girl ends up being a terrific mystery drama-thriller that is as progressively dark and destructive as it is relevant. With a clear voice on marital conflict, the shamefully dirty attention-seeking media and the monster that is money, this Fincher-directed film effectively merges these themes into a terrific story to form a gripping, unstoppable piece of awesomeness that’s bound to surprise viewers at every turn of the screenplay’s narrative. And for a respectable, studio-backed film adaptation as this, the ballsy move not just has to be applauded, but works big time, as this ends up being yet another one of the best films this year.
Catch it at any cost, before it’s all but gone from the cinemas. Highly recommended.
Star Rating: 4.5 / 5
The movie’s rated-R by the MPAA for a scene of strong violence, some strong sexual content, and language.