It's hard to think of a director better suited to direct an adaptation of Gillian Flynn's twisted missing-person mystery novel Gone Girl than David Fincher, whose filmmaking career so far has woven a successful path from gory serial killer thrillers like Se7en to true-life drama about the evolution of the social media age in The Social Network.
Adapted for the big screen by Flynn herself, Gone Girl lies somewhere between these extremes. Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a magazine writer who finds himself out of work after the recession and the rise of the internet, and moves back to his Missouri home town with his seemingly perfect wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike). One their fifth wedding anniversary Amy goes missing under suspicious circumstances and it's not long before Nick finds himself at the center of a trial by public opinion, as the nation (and the audience) tries to decide whether or not he killed his wife.
The trailers for Gone Girl have already given away the fact that Nick and Amy's marriage isn't anywhere near as happy as it seems on the surface, as Nick fervently tells his side of the story to the police and Amy tells her own through a series of diary entries and flashbacks. It's the perfect recipe for a gripping tale that, as Affleck himself has said, is more or less bound to divide opinion in post-viewing discussions. Now the first reviews of Gone Girl are out and the critics so far unanimously agree that Fincher has pulled this complex story off with aplomb.
The Guardian - Xan Brooks:
"All credit to director David Fincher, who appears to take an unholy delight in tugging the rug and springing the traps. 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. That’s the way to do it."
Vulture - David Edelstein:
"The movie is phenomenally gripping—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... [Affleck] carries the movie. He’s terrific. Fincher exploits—and helps him transcend—his most common failing, a certain handsome-lug lack of commitment."
Variety - 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."
Hollywood Reporter - Todd McCarthy:
"Flynn has done a fine job of boiling her cleverly structured story down to the essentials, doing the necessary trimming but retaining everything her fans will want to see. Despite published reports that major plot changes were being made, particularly in the third act, this simply isn't true; it's an extremely faithful adaptation of what is ultimately a withering critique of the dynamics of marriage."
The Telegraph - Robbie Collin:
"It’s is 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. Reports that Flynn had, while writing the screenplay, dramatically reworked her original ending, are accurate, but only after a fashion. The plot is essentially unchanged, but every screw has been tightened."
Digital Spy - Simon Reynolds:
"Gone Girl movie grabs you in its vice-like grip from the opening seconds and doesn't let go. There are moments in this film that will make your jaw drop in shock and horror... Pike, so often a decorative supporting player, delivers a career-defining performance here. She's a revelation, showing a complete command over Amy - with any luck Gone Girl should bag her an Oscar nomination come awards season."
The Wrap - James Rocchi:
"Not only brutal but also brutally funny, Gone Girl mixes top-notch suspenseful storytelling with the kind of razor-edged wit that slashes so quick and clean you're still watching the blade go past before you notice you're bleeding... [The film] portrays marriage not just as warfare by other means but as many different kinds of battle — class conflict, sexual gamesmanship, wrangling over money, fighting over the future — with plenty of blood spilled. That's part of what makes it as damned good as it is."
Screen Daily - Graham Fuller:
"Ostensibly a serpentine cat and mouse thriller that will leave many viewers looking askance at their spouses, David Fincher’s guileful Gone Girl - which opens the New York Film Festival - should transcend its aura of adult sophistication to become a major hit in all territories."
The fact that there's disagreement amongst critics over the matter of exactly how much of the book's third act was change fits with Fincher's confusing claim that "everything and nothing" has changed, and that despite slightly different events the core of the story remains the same. Since the book's ending was pretty divisive, it will be interesting to see how satisfied audiences are with the film's conclusion.
As an adaptation of a best-selling thriller from one of the most accomplished thriller directors around, Gone Girl was always going to be a must-see movie this fall, and the positive reviews that have come out of its New York Film Festival debut only reinforce that. It certainly looks like a good way to get the month of Halloween off to an unsettling start.
Gone Girl arrives in theaters on October 3rd, 2014.