“Does any couple possibly know each other better than we do, right now?”
When Amy asks that question of Nick in Gillian Flynn’s screenplay adaptation of her massively popular novel “Gone Girl,” it’s a genuinely provocative query. That’s not a spoiler, either, because you have no idea where that happens on the timeline of the story of what happens between a married couple when the wife disappears on the morning of their fifth anniversary and all the evidence clearly makes it seem like the husband killed her.
I’ll confess that it threw me at first when David Fincher signed on to make the film, because it seemed almost too popular a pick. Then again, “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” sold a bazillion copies, so I guess this is within the same general wheelhouse. This week’s cover story in “Entertainment Weekly” is built around interviews with Fincher, Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, and Gillian Flynn, and they make a pretty strong case for why this particular chemical match game might result in something special.
There’s one quote in particular that has people really worked up, though. It’s sort of a weird convoluted quote, though. It’s David Fincher quoting Ben Affleck’s reaction to Flynn’s adaptation of her own work: “Ben was so shocked by it. He would say, ‘This is a whole new third at! She literally threw that third act out and started from scratch.’”
This has set off a flurry of reactions, but so far, I haven’t seen anything additional from anyone who’s actually read both Flynn’s novel and her screenplay adaptation of the novel. The draft of the script I have is dated June 14, 2013. And I did read the book. I thought it was a fiendishly clever game that Flynn played in terms of how she laid out the information in the book. For those who have not read it, the book begins with Nick Dunne realizing that his wife is missing. This kicks off a missing persons case with the local cops, rapidly expanding into a media circus because his wife Amy also happens to be a celebrity because her parents wrote a series of massively popular children’s books based on her as she was growing up. As each piece of information in the first section of the book is revealed, Nick looks more and more like a man who killed his wife and who did a very bad job of covering that up.
That’s not really what’s going on, though, and the way the book reveals that it has been lying to you from the start is, I think, enormous fun. It also infuriated more than a few readers, as untrustworthy narrators tend to do. It’s hard to do that same thing with visual language because people tend to put more trust in the “truth” of an image when they see it. If you should them a scene unfold a certain way, the only thing they can judge is what they see. The book made much use of the freedom of first-person narration to play with what you could trust, and finding a way to do that same thing onscreen must have been part of the appeal to Fincher as a director. Flynn has rebuilt the entire film, not just the third act. All the basic building blocks are the same, and people who have read the book won’t be shocked by the way things add up. But from moment to moment, Flynn has refigured it as a film, not just as a movie version of her book. If you look at how Fincher handled “the truth” in what may be his best film so far, “Zodiac,” it’s obvious he’s got a knack for laying out complicated information and for leading an audience into a labyrinth of contradictions and confusion.
The EW piece points out that Affleck has a special perspective to bring to playing the part of Nick once the media feeding frenzy decides that he’s a story, since he’s had to grapple with plenty of unwanted press attention himself, and I think the entire piece does a nice job of savaging the audience as much as any of the characters, offering some very pointed satire about how we treat these real-life crime narratives as they unfold. Anyone who finds the Nancy Graces of the world to be just a sort of grotesque sideshow of fear and lurid pleasure in the misfortunes of others will be pleased to see how they’re treated by the script, especially with Missy Pyle playing the part of Ellen Abbott.
As with the book, the two main roles are the best-defined, and both Affleck and Pike have some pretty big moments to play. The supporting cast is written well, too, though. I am fascinated by Fincher’s choice to hire Tyler Perry as Tanner Bolt, Nick’s lawyer. It’s a great role, and Perry’s going to have fun playing it. Neil Patrick Harris is a pretty strong choice as Desi Collings, a great creepy weirdo from Amy’s past. I like the notion of Casey Wilson as Noelle, the neighbor whose friendship with Amy comes as such a surprise to Nick, and Kim Dickens should be a strong fit as Detective Boney.
In short, audiences who are already excited should be excited. It seems like the book is in the best possible hands. And if you’re someone who hasn’t really paid attention to this one yet, the EW story did what it was supposed to do and got people talking about the film. While I think people are overblowing the Affleck quote, it is going to interesting to see how people react to the way Flynn has refigured things. I’m glad Fincher’s not afraid to work with something this mainstream as source material, and I think in the end, fans of his earlier work are going to recognize him in the work after all.
“Gone Girl” is in theaters October 3, 2014.