Okay, so let’s weigh in on this one. First of all, let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way. The film is exquisitely made. The direction is muted, ominous and moody. The score is brooding, haunted and strange. The performances are solid across the board. The script is a mostly solid distillation of the novel. And I expected no less than all of those things; this is a David Fincher film. And let me just throw out here at this moment that the murder scene (no spoilers!) is an arresting, heart-stopping masterpiece, much like the protracted, horrifying rape sequence in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Even in his lesser films, Fincher is able to find at least one sequence, it seems, that really gets him up there to the top of his game. At his worst, those things are going to be as they are. I’ll just comment a bit more on a couple of those things. Affleck’s performance? Mostly very good. It’s really more of a very good casting decision really. The role calls for ambiguous emoting, weary cynicism, unintentional smarminess, the look of a former golden boy gone to seed & the sense that the character isn’t awfully bright. I don’t want to be mean because I’m not saying these are just things that Affleck actually is, though you can’t deny certain parallels are there. But these are all things that fall pretty naturally in Affleck’s wheelhouse; these are things he can actually do. The weaknesses come when he’s asked to embody the character’s rage and that’s why the film . . . well, that’s a bigger issue, so let me postpone that.
Well, okay, I guess it’s time to talk about the weaknesses. The film has been hammered as misogynistic and it’s clear that it does, as a friend of mine said, play right into the MRA movement’s worst presumptions about women. In many ways, the book did as well, to the degree that I thought at the time of reading it, and still think, that the book would have been pilloried as misogynistic if it had been written by a man. But both the script and Affleck’s performance push the film even farther in that direction than the book. Because there’s one essential element of balance that’s missing from the film and that’s Nick’s overweening rage toward women. In the novel, we’re certainly let in on Amy’s dark pathologies, but we also spend a lot of time inside Nick’s head and its pretty well a toss-up which of them is a worse person. And if a sociopathic lack of empathy seems to be Amy’s defining characteristic, rage is Nick’s. And I do fault the script a bit for this. We get a ton of narration from Amy, but very little from Nick, which, ironically, in distancing us from Nick, makes him more sympathetic. So we hear less of his rage made explicit. And when it is, as in two scenes of domestic violence, Affleck isn’t able to reach the level of rage that the character needs if we’re going to find him as scary and repulsive as we find Amy. I don’t know that just more script material could have fixed this; Affleck is the main problem with this, I think.
But there is a major way that the script fails to leaven the misogynistic character of Amy and that’s with the Tommy O’Hara subplot. In the novel, that plot is there and the film basically translates it exactly as it was in the book. But there’s a more chilling subplot in the book that demonstrates Nick’s discovery of Amy’s sociopathy; it deals with the way Amy manipulates a female friend from school. I forget the character’s name, but I found that story way more disturbing than Tommy’s story. And I feel that the female friend’s story is the one that should have been translated to the film instead of Tommy’s. This obviously entirely removes Tommy’s very problematic (in the way it plays right into the MRA narrative) story. But it also shows how Amy has victimized women as well and it allows us to really sympathize with a female character, an opportunity the film doesn’t really offer us anywhere else except with Go. That’s one simple change to the screenplay that would have balanced the misogynistic aspects of the film, at least a little.
Well, this is my longest review in quite a while, but this movie deserves an in-depth exploration, I think. But just to sum up, I found the film to be very effective in all the right “thriller” ways. I think someone watching it having not read the book would have really loved a lot of moments even more than I did, but even knowing what was coming I was engaged, interested and entertained for the entire two-and-a-half hour run time and that is no mean feat. Read simply as a thriller, I think the film succeeds superlatively. I feel about the film, as I did about the book, that much of the praise about the story that focuses on how it’s some kind of a great treatise on modern marriage is overblown. I don’t think the book or the film particularly has a lot to say; I think it’s just a really, really good thriller. And I love thrillers that have things going on underneath the surface, like last year’s Prisoners or this year’s Blue Ruin, but I think a thriller can be a great thriller even if it has no ambitions beyond just being entertaining and suspenseful and interesting in a superficial way. This isn’t one of Fincher’s masterpieces. The great thing about most of his films is that they do have those things going on under the surface. This one, for me at least, assuredly doesn’t; but a genuinely well-made, well-written, well-acted thriller is still a very rare thing in today’s multiplexes, so that’s still enough to get a recommendation from me. It isn’t up to Fincher’s usual standards and it has some script problems and some performance problems , but on the whole, it’s a film I’d recommend you see. It’s head and shoulders above the average “thriller” we get these days, even if it doesn’t tower as high as I wish it had. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – Gone Girl could be better in both script and acting, but Fincher has made a superlative thriller, just one that is quite a bit shallower and more superficial than his usual work. 3 ½ stars.