Directed by Oscar-winner David Fincher, working from Gillian Flynn's adaptation of her own novel, the film divides its attention in the first hour between the disappearance of Nick Dunne's wife Amy and the budding and eventual declining romance between the two. Having made three notable crime dramas Se7en, Zodiac and The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo, Fincher nails the police procedural portion and its often cold and methodical nature. The romance portion, however, falls a bit short. Fincher has only tackled romance once in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Yet, that romance never felt real. It instead felt like a fairy tale and hollow. There too is a hollowness here. It's perhaps purposeful, but I never bought the relationship, even in its initial flirting between Nick and Amy.
Ben Affleck stars as Nick Dunne, a former writer in New York City who moves back home to Missouri to care for his sick mother who eventually dies of cancer. He has a hard time finding a job. He opens a bar with his sister, but business doesn't go well.
Rosamund Pike stars as Amy Dunne, also a former writer from New York who moves with her husband Nick to the Midwest. She helps with her mother-in-law. She even helps buy the bar using a trust fund she apparently has, but her marriage continues to get rougher and rougher, and it all comes to a head when Amy disappears on her and Nick's five-year anniversary under suspicion of foul play.
The police assumption is that Nick had something to do with it. Anytime a person is missing and presumed dead, the spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend is always the first suspect, and in this film the only suspect. Yet, Fincher's handling of Nick and indeed Affleck's portrayal never puts into question if Nick is guilty. One moment of domestic abuse is supposed to throw doubt in our minds, but one brief moment can't counterbalance a hour of Nick sympathizing on the filmmaker's behalf.
Since the movie clearly puts us on Nick's side, it then becomes a waiting game for what the twist is and the truth of what really happened to Amy, and it doesn't take long for that twist to come and for the truth about Amy to be revealed. Sadly, that truth is patently ridiculous. It is a bold underscore of the punishment not fitting the crime, or else it's just the cracking of a crazy person.
After that twist reveal though, Fincher turns the film over to that crazy person as to luxuriate in that insane individual's maniacal, cynical, misanthropic and vengeful musings and actions. This is clearly the House of Cards effect. Fincher started that Netflix series, which introduced Kevin Spacey's Frank Underwood, a maniacal, cynical and vengeful politician. Now, obviously the influence of that is bleeding into this.
That series does luxuriate in Frank's schemes, plots and even murders. The difference is that the stakes were so much higher in House of Cards. The sociopathy at work here seems over-the-top in that it's prompted by practically nothing. Yes, there's betrayal, but because Fincher fumbles the romance, I never bought the betrayal, and, yes, as stated, there's one instance of domestic abuse. Yet, Fincher obscures it.
That being said, it's curious to think if Fincher or his writer were trying to get at anything else, aside from sociopathic luxuriation. On the film's surface, it seeks to mock the media, as well as people's engagement of it. The film seemingly satirizes the media's quickness to judge or condemn. Yet, this mocking is less than comprehensive, as Fincher only cares to target with dead precision the singular Nancy Grace.
In general, this movie has on its sleeve the easy manipulation of people with the most scant of knowledge. This movie's tactics in fact are nothing but that kind of manipulation. That is until the twist comes and upends and quite frankly undermines it all.
Affleck is quite subdued here. He is most likely playing what's written. Yet, he's more or less like a puppet, but I never at any point felt him take control of the strings. The real standout is Pike. However, there is an artifice to her. This is again perhaps purposeful, but there's such calculation and conniving to her. She's reminiscent of Robin Wright in House of Cards or Deborah Kara Unger in The Game but to such an extreme. She could teach Emily Thorne from the TV series Revenge a thing or two.
Tyler Perry as Tanner Bolt, the lawyer that Nick calls upon, gives the best performance of his career. Carrie Coon as Margo Dunne, the sister of Nick, is great as well as Nick's one confidant. Neil Patrick Harris is uber-creepy but both he and Ben Affleck do full-frontal nudity in the final act, yet both in the literal bathing of blood. Three Stars out of Five. Rated R for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language. Running Time: 2 hrs. and 29 mins.