David Fincher‘s tenth feature sees its world premiere on Friday when it opens the New York Film Festival and then opens pretty much everywhere the following week. The first reviews are coming in, and we begin with Michael Nordine at Indiewire: “Gone Girl opens with Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) telling us that, when he considers his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike), he always thinks of her head—or, more specifically, of cracking it open to reveal all the private thoughts she never says aloud. This mix of the violent and the ruminative is typical of director David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn‘s bestselling novel, a missing-person thriller in which a given character’s status as victim or villain changes from one scene to the next.”
Variety‘s Justin Chang: “Surgically precise, grimly funny and entirely mesmerizing over the course of its swift 149-minute running time, this taut yet expansive psychological thriller represents an exceptional pairing of filmmaker and material, fully expressing Fincher’s cynicism about the information age and his abiding fascination with the terror and violence lurking beneath the surfaces of contemporary American life…. Making an impressive screenwriting debut (with adaptations of her two other novels in the works), Flynn has ruthlessly streamlined but not materially altered her story, fully retaining its bifurcated, time-shuffling structure and elaborate, spoiler-susceptible twists.” So if you haven’t read the book, stop right there.
For the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin, Gone Girl is “above all… a delicious exercise in audience-baiting: what begins as a he-said, she-said story of mounting, murderous suspense, lurches at its fulcrum into the kind of hot mess Brian De Palma might have cooked up 20 years ago in his attic…. It’s possible that Amy’s darker monologues may induce in female viewers the same double squirm felt by men listening to Edward Norton’s Fight Club voiceover: the shock that someone would ever dare to say such things out loud, coupled with a pit-of-the-stomach throb of recognition. There is a key speech in the novel in which Amy describes the fate of the ‘cool girl’—the archetypal sexy girlfriend who morphs, unbidden, into a pliant wife—that Pike delivers with a note of venomous triumph that makes you want to cheer.”
“With its shifting perspectives and timelines, its constant conflict between what’s said and what’s truly seen, Gone Girl is clean, clear, and perfectly constructed,” writes James Rocchi at TheWrap. “Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth and editor Jeff Baxter, both regular Fincher collaborators, deliver the kind of work that looks easy but, assuredly and on reflection, is decidedly not…. The best Hitchcock films struck a balance between elegance and violence, a peculiar mix of champagne fizz and spilled crimson blood; Gone Girl, with its giddy revelations and grim-grin reversals incorporating ugly facts and uglier fictions, fits perfectly into a modernized version of that superb tradition.”
“Psycho is a touchstone (as is Body Heat), though Fincher utilizes suspense as a smokescreen for social critiquing,” writes Graham Fuller for Screen Daily. Gone Girl is “a mordant satire of the mediating of domestic violence as mass entertainment.”
“Great pleasures are to be found among the wonderfully chosen supporting players,” writes the Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy, a comment echoed in one form or another in nearly all the reviews so far. That supporting cast includes Neil Patrick Harris as one of Amy’s ex-boyfriends, Tyler Perry as Nick’s lawyer, Kim Dickens as detective Rhonda Boney, Patrick Fugit as a cop and Carrie Coon as Nick’s sister.
Interviews with Fincher: David Jenkins (Little White Lies, where Simran Hans praises “his complex, fully-realized female characters”), Stephen Rebello (Playboy) and Amy Taubin (Film Comment). Brian Brooks interviews Flynn for the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Cara Buckley profiles Affleck for the New York Times. At the Playlist, Edward Davis has a preview of the soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
Updates: Fincher “appears to take an unholy delight in tugging the rug and springing the traps,” writes the Guardian‘s Xan Brooks. “His film shoves us so forcefully past the plot’s mounting implausibilities that we barely have the time to register one crime before we’re on to the next…. Gone Girl, finally, may be no more than a storm in a teacup. But what an elegant, bone-china teacup this is. And what a fearsome force-10 gale we have brewing inside.”
In full accord w/ @justincchang: GONE GIRL is an exhilarating, pitch-black marital comedy; Fincher’s EYES WIDE SHUT; the movie of the year.
— Scott Foundas (@foundasonfilm) September 22, 2014
It’s “phenomenally gripping,” finds New York‘s David Edelstein, “although it does leave you queasy, uncertain what to take away on the subject of men, women, marriage, and the possibility of intimacy from the example of such prodigiously messed-up people.” As for Affleck, “I never thought I’d write these words, but he carries the movie. He’s terrific. Fincher exploits—and helps him transcend—his most common failing, a certain handsome-lug lack of commitment…. Affleck’s Nick doesn’t mourn convincingly or look remotely honest—even when he tells the truth.”
“Transformed into the kind of wickedly confident Hollywood thriller you pray to see once in a decade,” Gone Girl is “the stealthiest comedy since American Psycho,” argues Time Out‘s Joshua Rothkopf. “Gone Girl, for all its murderous overtones, plays like a sad romantic drama—until the thing happens that no fair critic should reveal, and it becomes unlike anything you’ve ever seen: a sick, dizzying satire of marital mindfulness.”
“English actress Pike, playing an over-achieving Ivy League woman, gives the performance of her screen career so far,” Geoffrey Macnab writes proudly in the Independent, “one, that more than a decade after her appearance in the James Bond movie Die Another Day (2002), looks set to establish her as an international star.”
Update, 9/23: For Alison Willmore at Buzzfeed, this is “the kind of adaptation that signals in a thousand ways how it’s determined to get things right. And when there are so many smaller details, including its casting, its submerged but scathing sense of humor, and its dead-on portrayal of the economically devastated Missouri town of North Carthage in which it’s set, that are perfect, it can feel grouchy to complain. But on screen, Gone Girl differs in a fundamental and worrisome way from the text. It no longer feels like a narrative duel between Nick and Amy—it feels like a story about the crazy thing that happens to Nick…. Fincher directs Gone Girl with a glossy elegance—the coolness of his touch as a director lends itself well to this story of unlikable people. But the end result is a movie that’s closer to his stylish but hollow The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo than with his more virtuoso work like Fight Club. It’s not just that Gone Girl lacks the conviction of its own nastiness—it’s simply not the toxic soulmate saga that its source material is.”
Updates, 9/25: A clip via the Playlist:
And you can now listen to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s complete soundtrack at NPR.
Updates, 9/26: “One of those filmmakers whose technical prowess can make the mediocrity of his material seem irrelevant (almost), Mr. Fincher is always the star of his work,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. “His art can overwhelm characters and their stories to the point that they fade away, leaving you with meticulous staging and framing, and edits as sharp as blades…. At its strongest, Gone Girl plays like a queasily, at times gleefully, funny horror movie about a modern marriage, one that has disintegrated partly because of spiraling downward mobility and lost privilege. Yet, as sometimes happens in Mr. Fincher’s work, dread descends like winter shadows, darkening the movie’s tone and visuals until it’s snuffed out all the light, air and nuance.”
For the Los Angeles Times‘ Kenneth Turan, “all the fuss is justified. Superbly cast from the two at the top to the smallest speaking parts, impeccably directed by Fincher and crafted by his regular team to within an inch of its life, Gone Girl shows the remarkable things that can happen when filmmaker and material are this well matched.”
“Often undone by the wildly swinging, almost lunatic nature of the story itself, Fincher’s film is never as thematically unnerving as it perhaps sets out to be,” writes the Playlist‘s Kevin Jagernauth. “But it says something about Fincher’s storytelling skills, his ability to wrap viewers completely around his finger, that Gone Girl is still, at times, genuinely edge-of-your-seat involving and even astonishing.”
Meantime, the full text of Amy Taubin‘s interview with Fincher is now up at Film Comment.
Updates, 9/27: At Slant, Ed Gonzalez warns us right at the top that his review’s going to spill spoilers, so let’s just say for now that he’s giving Gone Girl two out of four stars.
Flavorwire‘s Jason Bailey: “Gone Girl may come advertised as a thriller, but that’s Fincher being a trickster—he’s gone and made the curtest, nastiest, most acidic black comedy about the marital accord since The War of the Roses.”
Updates, 9/28: “Fincher is certainly an auteur with great credentials in the dark crime drama department,” grants Godfrey Cheshire at RogerEbert.com. “The big drawback is that the material he’s working with this time comes off as notably inferior to that of his previous thrillers. While gripping and imaginative, the narrative of Gone Girl ends up feeling rather silly and awkwardly contrived.”
At Little White Lies, David Jenkins wonders, “is this trash, or is this ‘trash’? Gone Girl may even be considered the ne plus ultra of meta trash fiction, every frame operating on some treacherous duel level of sincerity versus cynicism…. But, first and foremost, this is a Fincher joint to its core, and while grand guignol set pieces are all very welcome, the real pleasure of this movie derives from its exhaustive examination into the very fibres of a modern relationship and the presentation of its findings as a catalogue of compromises, deceptions and derelictions of duty.”
Ben Kenigsberg at the AV Club: “Even the tone can’t be trusted; although the films’ narrative shapes are quite different, Fincher, at a press conference following the screening, acknowledged the importance of Psycho as an influence. Gone Girl begins as a surprisingly generic investigation thriller in the Presumed Innocent mode before gradually rising to Paul Verhoeven levels of exaggerated, comic trashiness.”
“Mr. Fincher has elevated Ms. Flynn’s pulp fiction to unexpected profundity, with a Night of the Living Dead-like moral about the deadliness of conformity,” writes Martin Tsai in the Critic’s Notebook.
“Affleck, with the consummate mixture of aloofness and weariness, delivers what is easily his most accomplished performance yet,” writes Jordan Raup at the Film Stage. And Pike, “who has been impressive in a number of prior features but had yet to truly leave a discernible mark, goes above and beyond here, particularly with an unforgettable ‘Cool Girl’ monologue and a few haunting scenes best left unspoiled.”
At Indiewire, Eric Eidelstein has notes from the NYFF post-screening Q&A.
Updates, 9/29: “Straight mating, it would seem, is the ultimate (and original) folie à deux, a florid psychosis whose presenting symptoms are acute vituperation, subterfuge, rancor, and regression,” observes Melissa Anderson, writing for Artforum. “Fincher’s adaptation bears all of the filmmaker’s trademark precision, his impeccable ability to conjure dread in the most seemingly benign locales of the Show Me State… His film is a perfect, soulless machine in service to a likewise impressively crafted, hollow novel.”
“The glum fact is that Gone Girl lacks clout where it needs it most, at its core,” writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. “We are accustomed to Fincher’s heroes being as obsessively smart as he is, if lacking his overarching patience, whereas Nick remains, to put it gently, a lunkhead. Amy has twice the brain, and ten times the cunning, but, despite the best efforts of Rosamund Pike, her character, onscreen as on the page, feels cooked up rather than lived in. That can work on film, as shown by another beauty, Gene Tierney, in Laura and Leave Her to Heaven, but the scheming of Tierney’s heroines was matched by a rare, ornate febrility in the movies themselves. Fincher’s method, on the other hand, is dogged and downbeat, so that Amy sticks out like a cartoon in a newsreel.”
“Where the book was better in its first half and more of a trashy twist-a-thon in its second,” writes Matt Prigge at Metro, “the film, directed by David Fincher, actually gets better once it gets trashy. And it’s not just trashy; it’s phantasmagoric.”
At the Dissolve, Matt Singer suggests that ” perhaps the most compelling rebuke to the idea that Gone Girl isn’t worthy of Fincher, or that he has no authorial stake in the material, is the fact that Flynn’s story… lets Fincher finally foreground one of the most persistent background themes in all his work: the inherent incompatibility of men and women, and the inevitability of an unhappy ending in almost every relationship.”
Updates, 9/30: “I suppose I found the gender politics of Gone Girl troubling on some levels,” writes Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir, “and Fox is clearly hoping that a battle-of-the-sexes audience debate will sell tickets. But like all of Fincher’s movies, this one is an intensely technical exercise steeped in cinema history, including the history of cinematic misogyny. So the net effect is more like meta-troubling, like a coldblooded and endlessly clever attempt to engage the outrage reflex and then undercut it.”
“Gone Girl is not a thriller,” writes Nick Schager for Esquire. “Nor is it a mystery. Rather, it’s a comedy, an outrageously pulpy, black-as-midnight satire about identity, desire, marriage, the media, and the lengths we’ll go to for happiness. Stuffed to the gills with knotty themes that it investigates via a ridiculously loopy narrative, it’s an out-and-out laugher in disguise.”
Updates, 10/1: At the Concourse, Tim Grierson notes that Fincher once “made a revealing comment about how he separates his work into two categories: ‘movies’ and ‘films.’ To his mind, Fight Club and Zodiac were films—serious and ambitious—while The Social Network was a movie, merely meant to entertain. ‘It’s a little glib to be a film,’ he explained. ‘Let’s hope we strove to get at something interesting, but Social Network is not earth-shattering. Zodiac was about murders that changed America… No one died during the creation of Facebook.’ … I definitely wouldn’t call Gone Girl glib. It’s occasionally campy and preposterous, but the questions it raises—aided by the intensity of the performances and the cold assurance of the filmmaking—leave you disoriented and troubled. If this is merely a ‘movie,’ why can’t studios make more of them?”
Gone Girl “is murder mystery, domestic horror, the blackest of comedies, social satire—perhaps the only way of containing all these is to call it noir,” suggests Josef Braun. “Above all, it’s a forensic analysis of love turned venomous in decay. In keeping with many Fincher films, it reaches heights of intrigue and resonance by focusing on detail and causality: it’s a marriage procedural.”
“He-said–she-said is fine for books,” writes Time‘s Richard Corliss, “but movies play with the cinematic precept that seeing is believing: we show, you swallow. Given the dueling narratives, of which one, both or neither may be exactly true, it’s pretty impressive that Flynn and Fincher have managed to transfer this bookish jest successfully to the screen.”
“Fincher and Flynn jettison the balanced 50/50 POV split from the novel and filter the majority of the narrative through Nick’s perspective,” writes R. Emmet Sweeney at Movie Morlocks. “This simplifies the story but also flattens Amy into a sociopathic cipher, one who can too easily be dismissed as a hysterical female. But Rosamunde Pike’s performance is ferociously controlled, betraying no loss of agency.”
“The movie, while entertaining and extremely well crafted, is too self-conscious about its depravity to be either truly disturbing or disturbingly funny,” finds the Voice‘s Stephanie Zacharek. “Ticking along with metronome-like efficiency, it’s more slick than sick.”
“Couching its commentary in a propulsive pulp tale, it’s a genre triumph at once scary, silly, and deceptively sly,” writes Nick Schager in the SF Weekly.
For Genevieve Koski at the Dissolve, “Gone Girl reveals itself as an optimal meeting of the minds, a perfect amalgam of a writer and a director with complementary fixations.”
Sight & Sound editor Nick James‘s review comes with a big spoiler alert.
The Chicago Tribune‘s Christopher Borrell profiles Flynn.
Updates, 10/2: “Several friends and acquaintances of mine in the film world are either unduly fascinated by director David Fincher (along with Steven Soderbergh, brothers in cinema, I’d say) while an equal part seemingly has no interest in him whatsoever,” writes Daniel Kasman, opening a conversation in the Notebook with Doug Dibbern, who, in his first reply, writes: “I think I’d categorize myself as one of those people who has no interest in Fincher whatsoever. I’ve only seen about half of his main features, partly because he strikes me as more of a metteur en scène than an auteur. I don’t see much of a philosophical thread running through his work.”
“One might be inclined to label the movie as a series of elaborate misdirections, if it weren’t implicitly conditioning the viewer to mistrust its characters,” writes Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the AV Club. “Like the Paul Verhoeven movies it occasionally resembles, Gone Girl is a satire that doubles as tightly styled, perverse entertainment—a deconstructed thriller with a bop-bop-bop drum-machine pace, which builds to one of the sourest, most hopeless downer endings in recent memory. Fincher’s style—with its looming ceilings and motel-murder-scene lighting—can make something as simple as a man going out for a cup of coffee look like a procedural.”
“This may be one of those cases in which the adaptation surpasses the original,” suggests Slate‘s Dana Stevens. “Gone Girl the movie strikes me as more complex, more suggestive, and more problematic—richly so—than Gone Girl the book.” That said, is it “a sexist movie? A movie about sexism that isn’t fully in control of its tone? Or some unholy hybrid of the two? After two viewings in the space of one week, I’m still not sure where I come down on that question.”
If you’ve already seen Gone Girl, you’ll likely want to read Michael Koresky (Reverse Shot) and Adam Nayman (Cinema Scope)—but if you haven’t seen it yet, wait. They both give fair warning: plenty of spoilers. Meantime, there’s more from Nigel Andrews (Financial Times, 2/5), Nicholas Bell (Ioncinema, 4/5), Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 4/5), Paul Constant (Stranger), Steve Erickson (Gay City News), Marc Savlov (Austin Chronicle, 4/5) and Kelly Vance (East Bay Express).
“Gone Girl, Hollywood and the gender war” is a piece in the Financial Times by Tom Shone that, beware, “embraces” spoilers. More spoiler-loaded discussions: Richard Brody (New Yorker), Amanda Dobbins (Vulture), Dana Stevens (Slate) and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (AV Club).