The most remarkable aspect of David Fincher’s choice of projects is that he consistently finds intimate, often first-person narratives to filter through his detached, clinical perspective. Part of what makes Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl such a fascinating adaptation is how easily it fits the director’s usual method despite the raw nature of its structure. At first glance, the novel’s narrative, rooted in the overlapping perspectives of Nick Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) raging id and Amy Dunne’s (Rosamund Pike) calculating superego, has a ragged, scorched-earth tone that clashes with Fincher’s cold frames. But it also touches on a number of social commentaries that might interest the filmmaker: the self- and social perceptions of men and women; the role of contemporary media in not simply documenting a story, but creating it; millennial resentment for the micro- and macroeconomic ruin inherited from their parents; and marriage as both the demilitarized zone and the frontline of the battle of the sexes.
Naturally, Fincher’s film eschews the morass of Nick and Amy’s duplicitous viewpoints for a clearer view of the knotty mystery behind Amy’s sudden disappearance. Yet it also dispenses with the more broad-minded critiques that would suit the director, instead homing in on the more personal aspects of the story, despite the absence of nearly all the book’s internal monologues. Gone are the misogynistic rampages of Nick’s expressed thoughts, replaced by the surface tension of Affleck’s physical acting, all hunched, simian shoulders and plastic smiles that express Nick’s deep discomfort with the mounting investigation. The book calls attention to Nick’s awareness of the fact that most of the people scrutinizing him are women, but the film merely places women around Nick and lets his own awkward, testy confrontations with them reveal the cracks in his veneer of politeness, suggesting his loathing instead of foregrounding it. By burying Nick’s explicitly repellent nature, the film leaves the task of discovering his defects to the accurate observations and misleading confirmation biases of the other characters. Fincher achieves this with an array of cross-cuts that dart with lightning speed from Nick making a mistake—an ill-timed smile, the wrong tone of voice, a convenient lapse of memory—to doubters and supporters nearby registering the moment with a flare of the nostrils or an exasperated, slow blink. Gone Girl isn’t really a thriller, but this patchwork of gestures and glances gives the film a paranoid edge on the level of Fincher’s last few procedurals.
Flynn herself adapted the book, and her screenplay displays a remarkably judicious whittling process, as well as a keen notion of what would and wouldn’t play on the screen versus the page. Both she and Fincher smartly craft the film as if expecting most of the crowd to know the big second act twist going in, and that frees her to focus on the various knife twists that imbue even the most tossed-off exchanges with menace and suspicion. Flynn’s willingness to gut her own material is commendable, and she not only consolidates the plot to feature length, but reworks the entire framework to alter the perception of the leads. Even the device of Amy’s diary, used in the novel to firmly elicit the reader’s sympathy for the as-yet-seen woman, is rendered with a blatantly ironic bent, both scripted and delivered in a sing-song innocence so fake you can practically hear Amy’s lips curling into a sneer.
Both the writer and director cede much of the final authority of the film’s emotional and intellectual resonance to the actors, all perfectly cast not only to their talents, but their images. Affleck, the breakout smart kid who got sidelined into paycheck gigs and felt unappreciated, doesn’t play himself so much as the dismissive view of him. Neil Patrick Harris plays Desi, an old hanger-on from Amy’s past, the way that his How I Met Your Mother character might be in life, a flashy lothario whose air of superiority is controlling and suffocating. Tyler Perry shows up as a sleazy lawyer who specializes in defending husbands accused of murder, a man who knows exactly what market to target and who coaches Nick on what to say like a director, lobbing gummy bears instead of calling “cut.” The closest the film has to moral characters, Nick’s sister, Margo, and the suspecting but nonetheless fair-minded detective Boney, are played, respectively, by character actresses Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens, who use their relative anonymity to their advantage. In a film that picks over how bystanders all the way up to the national media will scrutinize every move, the A- and B-list stars all have to play to and against their image, while Coon and Dickens are free to be people, flawed but insightful and trying to do the right thing.
Pike, too, has the benefit of minimal exposure in America, and she uses it not to emphasize the mystery around Amy, but the character’s capacity to be anything in any situation. If nothing else, Pike toys with the notion of the British actor as the fundamentally superior product to highlight how much of an actor Amy, like any sociopath, really is. Pike speaks the diary lines with teasing insouciance, and her often silent pantomimes in the diary visualizations display the edge behind her plays at being the perfect housewife. Flynn’s book portrays Nick and Amy as evenly matched in repulsiveness, two toxic people destined to rot together. But the film hinges on Affleck’s schlub routine and the almost lustful zeal with which Fincher, overthinking gamesman that he is, dotes on Amy’s schemes, never once suggesting that Nick could be Amy’s equal in anything, even base evil. This Amy is a kind of divine reckoning, and though the movie omits most of the novel’s nastiest bits, it feels even more perverse for mildly suggesting that Nick should feel honored to be deemed worthy of her education.
David Fincher’s film gets a predictably great transfer from its original theatrical condition. The director’s perpetually icy frames have rarely looked more hermetically sealed, and Fox’s Blu-ray deftly captures the gradually suffocating purity of the cinematography, as well as its frequent plunges into uncrushed blacks. The audio is just as impressive, teasing out the nuances in Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score, a deceptively simplistic hum of new-age tone clusters that hosts all kinds of disruptive quirks like bursts of glitch and a love theme that sounds as if played on sonar. As distributed in the 7.1 track, the score is a crucial aspect of a film all about the unease lurking below manufactured, placid surfaces.
In a cute promotional gimmick, the Blu-ray comes with an Amazing Amy book, one of the overly precious, wishful-thinking children’s tales sold by Amy’s wealthy parents in the film. It’s an odd thing to include with the movie, though, considering how drastically the film scales back any mention of this aspect of Amy’s upbringing. More pertinent is the inclusion of one of Fincher’s always entertaining commentaries, which begins in fine form with the director mocking the Regency production logo for being so old and includes some generous praise for the actors. It’s not as technical as some of his other tracks, but Fincher makes up for it with delightful digressions like his love for the film’s cat, which was so laidback it would stay in the same spot for all the director’s takes.
Gone Girl typifies David Fincher’s style while pushing him in new creative directions, and Fox’s minimally loaded Blu-ray wisely leaves the film open for spirited debate.