A couple of nights ago, the New York Film Festival kicked off at Lincoln Center, with a starry, splashy premiere – "Gone Girl," the long-awaited adaptation of Gillian Flynn's best-selling mystery (there were more than 3.5 million copies in print in the first year the book was published). Everyone was there, including stars Ben Affleck (who took some good-natured ribbing about his upcoming role as Batman during the post-film Q&A) and Rosamund Pike and director David Fincher. But the real star was, of course, the movie.

"Gone Girl," for those precious few who haven't read the book, concerns the disappearance of a beautiful wife (Pike) and the media scrutiny that zeroes in on her charming husband (Affleck). Did he murder her? Was she kidnapped? Or is there something altogether stranger going on? These are the questions that swirl around "Gone Girl," and as directed by Fincher ("Seven," "Zodiac," "The Social Network"), they become even murkier and harder to discern.

But was the adaptation worth the wait? And what of all the talk about the severe changes made to the original novel's narrative? Well... Read on to find out. And, in keeping with the book, I'm splitting the review into 5 Things You Should Know If You Haven't Read the Book (so: no spoilers) and 5 Things You Should Know If You Have (stuffed with spoilers).

If You Haven't Read the Book, You Should Know...

1. It's a New Classic
David Fincher's "Gone Girl" is an absolute masterpiece; a uniquely American rumination on marriage and modern society and one of the very best, most thrilling experiences you'll have going to the movies this year. Every second of the movie is precision cut, every performance calibrated to perfection (more on that in a minute), and as big a kick as the movie is, it's also deeply resonant on an emotional and political level. This is a movie where big ideas are nestled inside a nifty mystery. It's profound and heartbreaking and deeply personal while also being a total cinematic rollercoaster. "Gone Girl" is, handily, one of the greatest cinematic accomplishments of the year, and one that I can easily see becoming even deeper and more thoughtful after multiple viewings.

2. This Is the Best Ben Affleck Has Ever Been. Ever.
Ben Affleck, at the press conference following the NYFF screening, joked that he wanted to be "a director when I grow up." But in recent years, that's primarily what the actor has been known for, with his pair of Boston-set crime movies ("Gone Baby Gone" and "The Town") and an Oscar-winning historical thriller ("Argo"). But with "Gone Girl," he re-enters the acting arena full force, almost two years before taking on the brooding Dark Knight in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," and it's the best he's ever been. Affleck is unassuming but electric, giving the kind of naturalistic, lived-in performance that seemed to always be slightly out of reach (even in the movies he directed himself). There's also a weird real-life dimension to his performance, since he plays a man who is hounded relentlessly by the media; those scenes are both scary and familiar. Everything that might have bothered you about Affleck before – his handsome, schoolyard bully good looks, his goofy amiability, the occasional brittle edge – are turned inward and flipped upside down. His charm becomes a liability, his relentlessness a virtue, and your allegiance oscillates accordingly. It's a high-wire performance and Affleck pulls it off admirably.

3. Rosamund Pike Is Officially a Movie Star Now
For years now, Rosamund Pike, a wonderful British actress, has appeared on the sidelines of fairly big movies that, for whatever reason, failed to catapult her to the next level of her career (some James Bond movie, "Pride and Prejudice," "Jack Reacher," "The World's End"). Well, all that is about to change. "Gone Girl" is the type of role that makes an actress a movie star, one that is able to showcase the performer's wide array of talents and it doesn't hurt that she's lump-in-your-throat gorgeous. What's so great is that none of these previous roles really prepares you for what she's capable of in this movie. It's brilliant work. Pike may play the gone girl, but she is definitely here to stay.

4. The Music Is Unbelievable
For the past few movies, Fincher has relied heavily on Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, a pair of musicians who work most of the time in the fabulously popular rock outfit Nine Inch Nails, but for the filmmaker create haunting, electronically-tinged soundscapes. For "The Social Network," they created glittery electro pop that kept with that movies John Hughes-goes-to-hell feel, and with "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," they approximated the snowy Swedish landscape in music form (listening to the accompanying album practically gave you frostbite). For "Gone Girl," they create something wholly different than the other two scores but yet still keeping within the same wheelhouse - and it's totally unbelievable. Fincher instructed them to think of the music he heard in a spa while getting his back adjusted, a kind of malformed sweetness that could, over the course of the movie, curdle and rot. So taking that idea, they created the musical equivalent of Nick and Amy's relationship. On the surface, it seems so beautiful. But underneath...

5. It's Really Funny
A movie about a potential homicide (or, at the very least, a violent kidnapping), doesn't seem like it is the type of material that should be stuffed with jokes. Yet it is. Fincher's films have always been under-appreciated when it comes to their levels of comedy, but there are great gags in almost every movie and "Gone Girl" is easily one of his funniest. The satirical element of the film, the part that skewers the media (and how we consume that media) is only slightly heightened. You can see enough real life in it, even if the comedic element is boosted a bit. And Pike and Affleck are both really, ridiculously funny too. It's just a joy.

And If You Have Read the Book, You Should Know...

Seriously... No Turning Back... Spoilers Ahead

OK...

1. Structurally, Things Remain Intact
One of the bigger questions when it came to the film adaptation of "Gone Girl" was whether or not the book's shifting perspective, half told in real time as the investigation unfolds and half told through slippery diary entries written by Amy before her disappearance, would make it through to the movie. It does. And it's brilliant. Flynn and Fincher found the perfect way to translate that very literary device to the big screen in a way that was truly thrilling, especially when you consider that...

2. The Twist Works Even Better Here
Of course, if you've read the book then you're reading this section of the review and you know that Amy is actually alive (!) and staged her death to get revenge on her very lousy husband. And what's kind of amazing is how this plays out. About halfway through the movie, there's just a montage of "how she did it," and the shock of the twist just reverberated in the theater (and, honestly, through the rest of the movie). The montage is, of course, put together with the typical level of Fincherian flair, and cements the movie's nearly hypnotic power. Just... wow.

3. The Ending Is Pretty Much the Same
There was a lot of talk early on in the process that Flynn had deconstructed the last act of the book and had thrown it out altogether. But that just isn't true. There are a few embellishments, but generally, things are the same. So don't worry, there haven't been any major shake-ups in terms of the narrative beats and it's just as perverse as it's always been. There is one little bit that's been added that will delight everyone, but you're going to have to watch it to find out what that is.

4. Tyler Perry Makes a Terrific Tanner Bolt
The biggest X-factor, probably, in terms of Fincher's cast, was the addition of Tyler Perry as Tanner Bolt, the smarmy lawyer that swoops in to defend Nick when the public scrutiny becomes too great. Now, Fincher has a knack for great (sometimes left-field) casting choices, but Perry seemed odd even by those admittedly looser standards. But you know what? Perry totally works. He's really funny and confident and oily and it is yet again a testament to the power of David Fincher that he could choose someone primarily known for dressing up in drag and putting on an affected, slightly harmful stereotypical voice, and making him stand strongly alongside Affleck and the other actors.

5. 'The Scene' Is Amazing
There's a sequence late in the book that, when I was reading it, literally made my jaw hinge open. The sequence is, I am happy to report, fully realized, in all of its bloody glory, in the movie. So just prepare yourself (it also has the best soundtrack cue in the entire thing). I'm still being cagey because I'm worried people will keep reading into the spoiler section even if they're not supposed to, but be prepared... it gets gross.

categories Movies, Reviews