Star cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens
Director: David Fincher
“Who are you?”, “What have we done to each other?”, “What will we do?”. Gillian Flynn talks about questions such as these “stormclouding over every marriage” in the third paragraph of her gripping story about a relationship from hell. Or, is it? The beauty of Gone Girl was how it made it all seem plausible when suddenly it didn’t.
For, if there are two sides to every story, few are held as dear as in a marriage — both of which the book perfectly understood. The problem always was going to be how to translate its gradual transitions as well as unexpected twists onto the big screen. In that, Flynn, also the screenwriter, couldn’t have asked for a better director than David Fincher, the clever exponent of tense relationships, misogynist protagonists, orchestrated violence, and people living double lives (Se7en, Fight Club, The Social Network, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo).
From his first scenes of the North Carthage town, Missouri, Fincher establishes a place and people keeping up appearances as things go to seed. Then the camera moves in, into the Dunne’s sparkling but strangely lifeless home with Nick (Affleck) looking like a boy lost within it. In his stubble, ill-fitting shirts and awkward manner, Nick appears more at ease in his twin sister Margo’s (Coon) shabbier lived-in home or the downmarket bar they own together.
Following the pattern of the book, the film establishes that this is the day of Nick’s wife Amy’s (Pike) disappearance. And proceeds to tell the story of their marriage from his point of view, as told to the cops, and her point of view, as recorded in her diary. Her entries, written with pen or pencils with girly designed tops at their ends, are happy and excitable before taking a dark, ominous turn.
Unfortunately, this is the portion of the book Fincher decides to economise on, moving on to the stage where we realise that Nick and Amy’s stories don’t match and that their lies don’t add up to the same truth too quickly.
Once that is established though, Fincher handles the second act deftly, establishing the clash of cultures, classes, big city and small city, truth and media hype, even as he is steering through the story of Nick and Amy. Whether it is the smug he in front of the cameras, or the confident she in the midst of people she has never had to deal with, both are out of place. You almost feel sympathy for the two people you are clearly not meant to like, Amy’s parents, who modelled a successful series of children’s books on their daughter that is as much about her as how they view her. Eager to please but quick to judge, they stick out like sore thumbs among Missouri’s crowd.
Fincher gets good work out of the other actors in smaller roles here, including Coon, who grows into the role of the supportive sister, and especially Detective Boney (Dickens), the only one interested in the frank, unembellished truth.
However, none deserves applause more than Pike, who is astonishing in not only how she makes the shifts in character and looks required of her but also makes us startlingly see what drives Amy. She also dominates her men completely, be it the strong, cleft-chinned Nick, or the too-sly, too-dapper Desi (Harris).
Nick is meant to be the mamma’s boy who never grew out of trying to impress others. Flynn’s story is full of strong women who clearly sees him for what he is. Affleck, who has had a taste of both being led by women and liked and hated by the media, lets his Nick do the talking.