The Turn of the Screw

Book-to-movie adaptations are a tricky beast. Stick too slavishly to the source material, and the film may come off as stiff and unwieldy. Stray too far from the source material, and you'll upset the fan base that made the original work popular in the first place. It's a tight line to walk, especially when the author of the original book writes the movie screenplay as well, which is usually a sign of disaster to come. In the weeks leading up to its release, plenty of internet ink got spilled over how Gillian Flynn and David Fincher would be handling the screen version of Flynn's smash novel, Gone Girl. The answer? Pretty damned well!

For the four people who haven't heard of it, Gone Girl follows the story of a couple in the midst of some tough marital problems. Nick and Amy Dunne have been hit hard by the recession, and have moved to Nick's small Missouri hometown. On the morning of their fifth anniversary, Amy vanishes from the couple's home, and there are signs of foul play. Is she dead? Has she been kidnapped? Is Nick involved? He protests innocence, of course, but when Amy's diary is discovered, it seems to implicate him even further.

And then everything goes bonkers.

Aside from the plot, there are plenty of deeper themes explored. I've been reading some interesting articles and reviews about how this movie represents the institution of marriage, the destructive culture of media outrage, and lots of issues regarding feminism. It delves into these topics in a very intelligent way, but we shouldn't forget that at its heart, this a pulp story, full of devious people and totally crazy situations. No need to hold a degree in social sciences before heading to the theater; it works quite well as a thriller. As far as performances go, most special mentions have to go to the female contingent. Rosamund Pike gives Amy a cool, competent air, but still conveys the emotion bubbling underneath. Carrie Coon is Nick's twin sister who does her damndest to be supportive, even as her brother makes what she feels are all the wrong decisions. Kim Dickens is marvelously understated, but forceful as a detective trying to unravel the mystery of Amy's disappearance. And hey, let's not leave out Missi Pyle, who plays a Nancy Grace surrogate as nasty and irresponsible as you could ever want.

I kind of wish I could have seen this movie with fresh eyes (that is, not having read the book). The plot has so many twists and turns, but I was able to anticipate all of them. In a way, though, that freed me up to concentrate on other things, like performances and atmosphere, both of which are terrific. I've heard some over-enthusiastic chatter about Oscar nominations for this movie, and while I wouldn't be mad if that happened, it's not that great. I don't need it to be Oscar-caliber work, though. It's a highly-enjoyable, well-acted, tense thriller, and that's good enough for me. Now all I want is to see it with someone who has no idea what's about to happen.

Gone Girl: B+


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