Although I am certain many will offer examples to the contrary, I never can recall seeing a film better than the book upon which it was based. Hollywood seems to have a knack for making inferior movies from superior books by plot distortion, inferior casting, poor direction, changing the ending, or various and sundry other unnecessary alterations.
I can cite a veritable plethora of film desecrations of great novels, but absolutely none surpasses the 1995 version of “The Scarlet Letter,” which makes an absolutely ludicrous mockery of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American classic. The stars of this debacle were Demi Moore, Robert Duvall, and Gary Oldman, who should have been totally embarrassed to appear in a film in which the director or the producer or whoever had the audacity to alter the ending of an American literary masterpiece.
Fortunately “Gone Girl,” based upon Gillian Flynn’s 2012 thrilling runaway bestseller of the same name, follows the book quite closely probably because Flynn wrote the screenplay. The novel definitely was one of those I-just-can’t-put-it-down books, and I was riveted to each page from beginning to end. I wish I could say the same about the film, but I just can’t do it. Don’t misunderstand me. It’s not a bad movie, but it just isn’t as good as I was hoping it would be.
“Gone Girl” revolves around the once happily married Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), who have been wed five years to the day as the movie begins. When Nick arrives home on the day of his fifth anniversary, he finds that Amy has gone missing. An overturned and broken table in the living room indicates signs of a struggle, and Nick is completely mystified by his wife’s disappearance.
As the ensuing investigation proceeds, Ben’s rather strange behavior begins to cast suspicion on him despite his adamant claims to the contrary. Additionally through a series of flashbacks we learn that their once solid marriage has soured. Whereas they originally had been living in New York City, where Amy was very happy, they ultimately had to pick up and move back to North Carthage, Mo., where Nick was raised and where his mother has been diagnosed with cancer.
The sudden relocation coupled with the fact that they both recently lost their jobs understandably creates considerable tension between them, and then Nick really makes matters worse by cheating on Amy. As the story continues to unfold from different points of view, we begin to learn that everything is not as it appears, and instead of coming at the end of the film, the big reveal occurs near the middle. This will be quite a surprise for those who haven’t read the book, and I won’t give it away.
In fact because I don’t want to spoil the movie for those who don’t know the story, I must keep the remainder of my commentary intentionally vague. I can say, however, that both Affleck and Pike were adequate in their respective roles, and newcomer Carrie Coon is quite good as Nick’s twin sister, Margo. But for me the biggest surprise in the movie was Tyler Perry’s portrayal of Tanner Bolt, who is Nick’s lawyer. It was a real treat seeing him in something respectable instead of those moronic Madea movies.
“Gone Girl” was directed by David Fincher, who is no stranger to the thriller genre because he was behind the camera for such chillers as “Zodiac,” “Seven,” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Unfortunately, I found that “Gone Girl” was not particularly effective in establishing and sustaining a high level of suspense, and this was a disappointment because the book was a white-knuckler. But because Flynn actually wrote the screenplay, the plot does stay fairly true to the book, and in the film’s production notes, Affleck offered an interesting perspective on Fincher’s making the film.
“It was as if David interpreted what Gillian wrote and then that interpretation was put back through Gillian again on the page. And during that process there was even more wit added, there was more sardonic stuff, and there were so many salient observations. It really fits into David’s work and has that distinctive combination of being at once funny and enlivening.”
Affleck also related what Flynn told him in a preproduction meeting.
“He (Flynn) said, this can’t be a vain performance. You have to fully commit to showing the soft belly of this guy. You have to be willing to be really embarrassing, not ‘pretend embarrassing’ or ‘movie embarrassing,’ but to actually show those parts of yourself where you think ‘Why did I say that? Why did I do that?’ I knew it was a risk, but I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t deeply trust the director. I knew he was right about the way to do this, that it was really smart. But later, when I was feeling humiliated as Nick, I had to remember this is what he told me right in the beginning!”
What attracted Pike to the project was the book’s view on marriage and the complexity of Amy’s character as she explained in the production notes.
“I was quite intrigued by this idea of marriage as con game — the idea that we’re all selling a version of ourselves. And Amy is such a remarkable creation. It fascinated me that she is always performing, perhaps in part because it points back to the life of an actor. The challenge of being Amy is that nothing that happens with her is quite what it seems on the surface.
“In playing Amy, I get to explore so many different aspects of the feminine brain. There are scenes where Amy is playing two different things to two different people in the same room — and the audience has to see both. She can be easy-going, sexy and relaxed, but then there are all these other currents running underneath. It’s all very true to our lives right now, isn’t it? We all are editing a version of ourselves it often seems. Amy is the kind of girl who is not just Nick’s ‘dream girl.’ She would attempt to be the ‘dream girl’ for any man she was with — she will get in their head and be that girl, play that role for all it’s worth.”
Because I enjoyed the book so much, I was really looking forward to the movie, and although the film version was all right, it didn’t blow me away as I hoped it would. I thought it was a bit slow in places, and I found its running time of 149 minutes just a bit excessive. Is it worth seeing? I suppose so because it already is being touted as an Oscar contender for best picture? Is it worth full price of admission? I’ll answer that with another question: Is any movie worth that much? Would I want to sit through it again? No.
From its early hype and the ensuing trailers, “Gone Girl” looked like a nine or 10, but after seeing it, the best I can do is give it the final score of a disappointing, but still respectable, seven.