It took me awhile before I realized I was not going to enjoy the movie adaptation of Gone Girl. Having read the book, initially I was very excited about seeing David Fincher’s version of the story. Though I have bad habit of being a “the book is better” purist, in this case I actually was pretty thrilled and interest to see how much they would alter the book in order to make it work as a thriller film. There were even few instances early on to the movie where I mentally gave an approving golf clap when I noticed something the screenplay had simplified and/or cut down something for the sake of clarity in the narrative. But then, I think around forty minutes into it, I came upon the ugly realization that the movie just was not grabbing me at all. I kept waiting and waiting for the story to grab hold of me, but it never did. I just felt bored, because the movie never really seemed to switch gears and properly start. After a certain point I simply gave up and resigned myself to sit it out and just wait to see what the ending was like, as at the time I was under the false impression that the movie was going to have a different ending, which of course later turned out to be a mere Internet rumor, much to my chagrin.
On a certain meta-level, before seeing the movie, it was pretty interesting to wait and see exactly what would make the cutting board and what didn’t, given that Gillian Flynn, the author of the book also wrote the screenplay. Having such an intimate relationship with the original material could have gone dozen different ways, it might not chance much at all, it could take a sudden left turn out of nowhere, it might feel completely different, maybe things the book dropped might be re-introduced in the book, etc. It was fun speculating. Considering how the book is very much dependent of narrating everything from the inside of Amy and Nick’s heads, and especially in Nick’s case there are a lot of little intentional omissions throughout the story that become important later on, seeing how the movie would tackle something like that and make it work in a visual medium held intrigue to me. After all, you can’t just have Ben Affleck narrate every single minute of the story, that’d be silly. Sadly, in this case the process of turning the New York Times bestseller into a feature film seems to have meant basically just making everything a lot more racier, simplistic and duller than in the book, with little anything added to make it more cinematic. Which on certain level makes sense in retrospect, I suppose. Flynn wouldn’t necessarily be very keen on altering her story that much. There’s also the Hollywood effect to consider, where the studio wants to make a product with the widest possible mass appeal, so you have to be more blunt about things to get the point across properly in a visual narrative in order for the “average” viewer be able to follow the story. Disappointing as it is, the reality is that instead of giving you a smart, stylistic and condensed version of Gone Girl, with a possible slightly new spin or approach to the story, the movie merely ends up looking like an inferior, cheaply made cash-in effort.
There are a few things I disliked about the movie, but listing them all would be tedious and probably repetitive, so let’s just go with one of the bigger ones, which is the character of Desi, the old acquaintance of Amy played by Neil Patrick Harris, who didn’t really get enough screen time in the movie and as a result weakens the whole third act considerably. Like a lot of things in the screenplay, his character got turned into a bare bones version of his former self. That in itself might have not been that bad, his character doesn’t necessarily need to be that well developed as long as you got few key details nailed down right, but unfortunately the movie doesn’t manage to portray his deranged obsession towards Amy that compellingly, nor very maliciously. Can you even take NPH that seriously? Not at least in this movie. Desi simply does not come out as menacing as he should. Aside from being slightly creepy at times, the dangerous long time stalker side of him never really manages to surface in a satisfying way, and that ruins a lot of the delicious irony when in the second half of the story Amy, still alive and hiding after successfully framing Nick for her supposed murder, finds herself trapped inside Desi’s fortified lake house, unable to call help.
The movie also has a pacing problem. It never really seems to build up tension or suspense properly, it instead breezes through plot points without giving anything enough time to settle and doesn’t give you, the viewer, time to digest everything. It very much felt like you would have needed at least an extra 30 minutes to let the twists and turns of the story to breath properly. The more I think about it, the more it feels like it was a mistake to adapt Gone Girl into a movie rather than a mini-series. So much of the book’s appeal relies on the major halfway mark twist and if that isn’t properly built and prepared in time, it loses its magic. The book kept you in its claws with the little cliffhangers and that’s really missing from the movie. I personally felt the movie entirely fumbles the delivery on the big dramatic moments, which is why the twist ends up being so bland rather than an exciting game changer it needs to be.
Now granted, it’s not all terrible. There were plenty of things that were okay or passable, good even. The general trimming of certain key twists made the story a lot more leaner and easier to digest in the time you have. Introducing Tanner Bolt via a casual TV interview segment in the news cycle covering Amy’s disappearance was a smart way to subtly foreshadow Nick hiring him as his attorney, and stuff like combining Nick’s visit to New York City where he hires Bolt to also include the plot point that has Nick meeting with Amy’s ex-boyfriend and get some dirt on her past makes plenty of sense and moves the story along quicker than if you had done it like in the book, where it happens as a sort of random phone call. But as nice as some of these clever small changes were, they simply were not enough to make up for the lackluster of storytelling.
Whether or not I would have had a different opinion of the movie had I seen the movie first and only later read the book is hard to say. It’s a thriller, so there is always that lingering thought at the back of your head that says maybe the movie would have been more engaging and interesting if I didn’t know all the twists that were coming. But a good thriller when done right can be entertaining even if you already knew the plot, so I don’t think that was what was the problem here. The fact is that as a movie this was painfully mediocre that barely managed to maintain my upper brain functions operational and it fails completely to provide any type of engrossing storytelling or striking visuals that would elevate it to be more than a generic B-list thriller. I wouldn’t really call it a terrible movie, as it is entirely serviceable and you never find yourself wanting to slit your wrists or anything as you’re watching it. But to say it’s even decent feels being pretty generous, but that could just be my personal disappointment talking again. In any case, I don’t really see any re-watching value for this, unless it was part of some kind of career retrospective for Fincher. You’re far better off reading the book if you want a well told story. The book at least is a decent page turner as a cheap thrill and the unreliable narrative format adds to the fun of reading it. Even in a worst case scenario it should have slightly more entertainment value than this movie.