I've never been a big reader. I can make it through six books per year if I'm diligent. This year, one of the books I read was Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl – because my wife read it and enjoyed it (except for the ending), and then she gave it to me, suggesting that I too would enjoy it (except for the ending). Knowing that the film adaptation was imminent, and hearing rumors that that ending would be changed, I plowed through the novel in nothing flat.
This is a movie review, not a book review, so let's cut to the chase: the movie's ending turns out to be pretty much the same as the book's. So there.
In fact, the movie is rather slavishly devoted to the book. Sure, like most page-to-screen adaptations, a lot of things had to be cut. (Flynn wrote the screenplay herself.) In this story of a man accused of murdering his missing wife, what really goes missing are several supporting characters, a few plot points (namely a key scene involving a drunken YouTube video) and nearly all of the book's first-person narration. But Fincher and his cast and crew have essentially added nothing.
Let's think about that for a second: What it means to add nothing.
Here we come to the question as to how much a filmmaker should try to copy a book vs. how much a filmmaker should try to transform it for the different medium. When a film feels letter-perfect but somehow suffocated, like the first two Harry Potter movies or like Gone Girl, I side with the camp that believes, you know, if you're just going to replicate the book note for note, then why bother?
If you've been reading my reviews for a while, you may know that I don't share film geeks' love for David Fincher. I find his movies to be technically proficient but soulless and empty (with the possible exception of The Social Network, but that really came down to Aaron Sorkin's witty script). Gone Girl slots perfectly into Fincher's oeuvre: by now, one can see a common theme in the work of this perfectionist director, who's famous for demanding dozens of takes of every shot. And that theme is obsessive meticulousness. It is most evident in Seven, The Game, and Zodiac, which all center around fastidious characters who successfully plot out every little twist and turn, leaving no room for life's natural unpredictability.
Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), the wife who disappears in Gone Girl, is another of those fastidious characters, so I can understand Fincher's interest in telling her tale. But Flynn's novel allowed us into Amy's – and her husband Nick's (Ben Affleck) – minds. That first-person narration shed a lot of light on what on the surface would appear to be mere sociopathy. Amy's constant self-justification comes to make its own twisted sense, given the context of her childhood, her professional and personal beliefs, and the state of the world we live in. Without that running monologue, although Rosamund Pike may look the part (albeit with extra added glamor), the movie never digs below Amy's surface. In fact, a lot of what makes her tick is only given a fleeting mention, so that Fincher can save room for all the plot twists.
Gone Girl is well-cast, crisply shot, and has a cool score courtesy of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Even Ben Affleck is endurable, for once, as the doofus Nick (who, thanks to the heightened obviousness of Amy's machinations on film, comes across as slower on the uptake than he did in the book). But watching this film, for me, felt mechanical. The emotions – and, frankly, the suspense – that added so much meat to Flynn's novel are all gone, girl.