Gone Girl Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Kim Dickens. Directed by David Fincher. Rated R. Opens Friday.
It may not be fair to judge a movie by who didn’t direct it, but watching David Fincher’s meticulous, sterile adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s nasty pulp novel Gone Girl made me wish that someone with a little less restraint were behind the camera.
We’ll never find out what Brian De Palma’s or Oliver Stone’s or Eli Roth’s Gone Girl would have looked like, and it’s not as if Fincher does a bad job with the material, aided by a screenplay from Flynn herself. Indeed, Fincher’s Gone Girl is often riveting, and the movie streamlines some of the novel’s most excessive elements, with brisker pacing (even at nearly two and a half hours) and greater narrative momentum. It’s a solid, sometimes seriously unsettling movie, with a number of very good performances, but it’s still second-tier Fincher, a faithful literary adaptation along the lines of his last film, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, without the larger resonance of movies like Zodiac and The Social Network.
The dueling-narrators structure of Flynn’s novel is so key to its appeal that it’s difficult to imagine the story succeeding without constant access to the inner thoughts of married couple Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and Amy Elliott Dunne (Rosamund Pike), but Fincher and Flynn pull it off pretty well with only minimal use of voiceover. The movie starts with Nick’s perspective, as he returns to his suburban Missouri tract home to discover Amy missing, signs of a struggle left in the living room. He calls the cops himself, but it’s not long before he becomes the chief suspect in his wife’s disappearance and possible murder, and the center of a media firestorm.
After Amy’s diary entries fill in some of the details on the couple’s early days, she gets to tell her own side of the story, and it casts the first hour of the movie in a whole new light. The success of the story hinges on the big mid-film twist, and it comes off as less infuriating here than it did in Flynn’s novel. Details that were belabored in the book are instead dispatched quickly, so that Fincher can linger on Pike’s masterful performance. With the narration pared down, the movie relies on Pike to sell Amy’s complicated, multilayered personality, and she skillfully conveys how this woman is constantly thinking two steps ahead of everyone around her, almost never letting her interior thoughts and feelings show on the surface.
Although Affleck is well-cast as the sometimes-boorish pretty boy, Pike consistently outshines him, with Carrie Coon (as Nick’s pragmatic twin sister Margo) and Kim Dickens (as world-weary Det. Rhonda Boney) the standouts in the supporting cast. As with all of Fincher’s movies, Gone Girl is impeccably shot and designed, down to the last detail, and Fincher applies those same exacting standards to the storytelling. It’s a messy story told in a calculated way, with precision as ruthless as the diabolical plan it depicts.