This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 12th October 2014
A couple of years ago, Gone Girl was the book you couldn’t put down until its final, gasp-out-loud revelation – and then once you’d put it down, you were left thinking either “Golly, I’m lucky my partner is so wonderful” or “Yup – relationships suck”.
Gillian Flynn’s novel takes the “he said, she said” structure of alternating narrative voices to nasty extremes in its exploration of the tribulations of married life – in this instance, the world of Nick and Amy Dunne, two beautiful young people for whom the melodic opening bars of true love have started to ring flat. When Nick comes home one day to an empty house and signs that Amy has been abducted, he finds himself subject to the scrutiny of America. After all, in this age of reality crime shows and tabloid sensationalism, everybody knows the perpetrator is usually related to the victim – so as the police descend to make sense of the crime scene and put a Missing Persons investigation into motion, Nick finds himself dragged through the media wringer. But what’s really going on, who is to be believed, and where is Amy?
There is no one better to handle this often grim, regularly misanthropic subject matter than Oscar-nominated (and disgracefully rejected) director David Fincher. Having made his early career mark with the excoriating Se7en, he showed his gift for adapting tricky storylines to the screen with Fight Club, and latterly the “Hollywood” version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which in my view was much more watchable than the original). Here Fincher has wisely collaborated with Flynn herself to whittle the highly involved page-turner into a snappily-edited, well-paced indictment of both the evils of relationship malaise and the iniquity of media manipulation.
Gone Girl’s casting is a joy – from a “faithful to the book” perspective, Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are so natural in their roles is feels like the story was written for them. But even putting aside preoccupations of adaptation for a moment, both actors are simply superb at conveying the layers of characterisation necessary for us to love/hate/love them and to believe these fallible human beings might just represent elements of each of us. Neil Patrick Harris is just the right side of slimy as Amy’s ex-boyfriend Desi, while hitherto unknown actress Carrie Coon has graduated abruptly from three years in television to grab all the best lines of dialogue from Affleck and spit them back in his face. Mercifully, she also provides us with the blackest laughs.
All the Fincher hallmarks are present and accounted for, from the yellow tinged photography to the new age industrial soundtrack created, as usual, by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and co-scorer Atticus Ross. As omnipresent as the music is (some may consider this an over-egging), it certainly ensures your stomach stays knotted throughout the two and a quarter hour running time, while you watch the threads of the story start to fray.
Gone Girl is an unsettling yet gripping book, and Fincher’s excellent film delivers the same schadenfreudian thrill.