The last month has been my busiest move-going time in ages – since the beginning of December, I’ve seen more than I did during the rest of the year.
First up was Gone Girl. Last Summer, I’d read Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel, and enjoyed it – an ingeniously plotted thriller and a good vacation book. (By the way, though I don’t plan to reveal any spoilers here, if you are planning to see – or read – Gone Girl, you’re probably better off knowing as little about it as possible.)
I had difficulty imagining a movie version, though – not that Gone Girl is great literature, but it is very much rooted in a kind of storytelling that isn’t easy to translate.
Also, I’m on the fence about David Fincher as a director. I can see that Fight Club is a real tour-de-force, but for me, its Gen-X hipster smugness is unbearable. The Panic Room hardly registered, and though I saw The Social Network, it, too made, little impression.
But Fincher has made at least one movie I think is truly masterful – Zodiac, which from the outset I found hypnotic. He has a particular bead on suburban life that simultaneously shows its obvious pleasures and comforts, while – without obvious editorializing –makes it also feel destabilizing, even sinister.
That visionary eye is ideally suited to the first hour or so of Gone Girl, which is where the movie is strongest. Ben Affleck is ideally cast, his natural skeeviness perfect for playing a husband whose motives we mistrust. Rosamund Pike is sexy, charismatic, and highly accomplished – there’s even a hint of old Hollywood glamour about her that’s fun to watch. (The net effect reminded me a little of Kathleen Turner’s career-making performance in Body Heat.)
There are also fine supporting performances by three actors I always enjoy – Lisa Banes, David Clennon, and Missi Pyle. And it’s great to see Carrie Coon, who was so superb onstage in Steppenwolf’s acclaimed Who’s Afraid of Virigina Woolf? revival, in a substantial movie role.
I’ll also hand it to Fincher that the novel’s structural coup – which I couldn’t imagine translating to film – really works here.
But from that point on, I began to lose interest. What’s wrong with Gone Girl the movie is also wrong with the book – once the audience is on to the game, the rest is not nearly as interesting. From there, it feels almost menu-driven, trafficking in plot twists familiar from other thrillers. (Before reading Gone Girl, I had read Flynn’s Dark Places, which I prefer – it’s more straightforward, but also creepier and more gripping.) As much as I enjoyed the beginning, by the end of Gone Girl (2.5 hours later!) I was doing the last thing a director would want to see from an audience member – looking at my watch.