I didn’t really like Gone Girl as a book. I thought the premise was interesting, and I appreciated the antagonistic ending, but I found the alternating narrators to be a gimmick, and I got bored—I skipped over a hundred pages in the middle of the book and never missed a beat—and I didn’t understand why author Gillian Flynn devoted so much ink to Nick Dunne when his deranged, vindictive wife Amy was so much more interesting. It’s not that I think that Flynn is a bad writer—she’s not—or that I was offended somehow by the ending (which I gather many people were), I just thought Gone Girl was a helluva story bogged down by its own gimmicky conceit. Not coincidentally, this is also exactly how I feel about David Fincher’s film adaptation.
As a movie—particularly as a David Fincher movie—Gone Girl has a lot to recommend it. Fincher’s cold, precise directorial eye is a perfect fit for a story of vengeance and emotional devastation set in Suburbia, USA. Flynn’s script is slick and polished, marred only by the occasional writerly dialogue, the kind of stuff that works fine the silence of our own heads but sounds dumb as soon as someone speaks it out loud. Jeff Cronenweth’s cinematography is as beautiful and smooth as it always in service of a Fincher film. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have produced their most haunting, effective electronics-driven score yet.
And the acting is, across the board, superb. Ben Affleck is perfect as Nick, the likeable lug husband who hides his loathsome personality behind a veneer of Midwestern charm and a smarmy smile. Affleck as an actor has never been better, and Fincher coaxes from him a surprisingly riveting performance. Kim Dickens (Sons of Anarchy) is superb as dogged Detective Boney, and Carrie Coon (The Leftovers) is very good as Nick’s twin sister Go. But looming over them all is Rosamund Pike’s towering performance as “Amazing” Amy, a seething volcano of feminine rage and vindictive, scorched-earth justice. Pike is a revelation, a good actress who’s been doing good work for years levelling up with one blazing turn as a profoundly complicated and fucked up character.
But the movie is still boring in stretches. Cut twenty minutes out of the middle and no one would miss it. And Flynn preserved the alternating narrators by intercutting present-day scenes of Nick unraveling his wife’s disappearance with Amy’s recollections of the beginning of their relationship, and it’s just as gimmicky here as it was in the book. It works better in the movie, but it’s still a problem. The satirical elements are sharper on screen, too, with Fincher capably framing Nick and Amy’s increasingly outlandish game of cat-and-mouse through media appearances, but the issue of whether or not Gone Girl is a satire or a character study of two terrible people remains unanswered. I think it wants to be a scathing satire, but there’s enough navel-gazing to take the edge off when the satire really needs to bite its hardest.
But it is certainly feminist. Amy is awful, there’s no arguing it. She’s a sociopathic nightmare amalgam of the modern masculine fear of woman-as-monster—a lying, manipulative creature who uses false accusation, fake pregnancy, and her sexuality to dominate and control the men around her. The scene in which the all-male FBI taskforce falls for Amy’s outlandish story of kidnap and escape is spectacular as Amy and Boney engage in a worldless conversation: I’m on to you; I know what you really are. Oh yeah? Doesn’t matter—these stupid men will help me get away with it.
But the movie underserves Amy, devoting too much time to blockheaded Nick and his revelation that his ice princess wife is not what he thought she was. Amy’s “cool girl” monologue accomplishes in three and a half minutes what it takes Nick thirty minutes of wandering around Missouri to figure out—that Amy was a lie all along, that she was only ever what she thought he wanted her to be. Gone Girl would’ve been better, as a story and a satire, if Nick had been relegated to being what Amy ultimately turned him into: A supporting player in her grandly, horrifyingly actualized life as the person she always wanted to be—America’s Sweetheart on her own terms, her husband thoroughly cowed and contained beneath her.