Starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike
Directed by David Fincher
WARNING! Here there be spoilers. Please only read on if you've seen the film, read the book, or want to know what happens. More time is spent describing the plot than usual - for a reason.
The story opens on the morning of the couple's fifth wedding anniversary. Nick leaves the house to visit his sister at their bar (imaginatively called The Bar), but when he returns home, his wife is missing, and there are signs of a violent struggle in the living room. He calls the police, and whilst being very concerned, appears open and honest with Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens - Joanie from "Deadwood") and Officer Jim Gilpin. A search of the house reveals a small splatter of blood in the kitchen. Boney, scarcely seen without a coffee in her hand, is still friendly and professional; Gilpin, however, immediately becomes suspicious and takes a dislike to Nick. Events in the present timeline are interspersed with flashbacks - enacted in the form of a voiceover by Amy reading from the pages of her diary - to the couple's meeting, blossoming relationship, and early marital period. This cross-cutting structure is extremely well handled, as it invites the viewer to bring their feelings about the events of one narrative strand and transpose them onto the other. We see Nick, the frantic husband desperate to find his wife, just as we see Nick the charmer and seducer, half of a dream couple. Simultaneously we see Amy seeking comfort in marriage as an escape, just as we don't see Amy at all any more, because she has gone; escaped? Through these flashbacks we learn that on each of their wedding anniversaries previously, Amy had staged a "treasure hunt", leaving a series of clues for Nick to lead them to his anniversary present. Initially assuming her absence to be part of this game, Nick's concern begins to mount, along with the public's. The "Find Amy" website and hotline spring up overnight, and "Missing" flyers plaster every wall and lamp post in town. Then the detectives find an envelope marked "Clue One" and the treasure hunt is on...
Things take a turn, though, when the flashback timeline shows cracks beginning to appear in the marriage. Both lose their jobs during the financial downturn, and they start to encounter monetary difficulties; Nick plays videogames when he should be concerned about Amy's problems, arguments become more frequent. In the present day timeline, some fumbles on Nick's part lead gradually to suspicion and whispers. The whispers grow louder. Could Nick really have murdered Amy? He's still a sympathetic character at this point, worried but trying to stay composed, to please the people who are helping in the search for Amy, and ultimately just in the worst possible conflicted state. The storm really breaks when it emerges that Nick had been having an affair. The townsfolk, media, and public across the country turn fully against him and make up their minds that his displays of grief are not quite genuine enough. One talk show host in particular seems to take up a crusade against him, picking on tiny moments and placing them out of context to falsify perceptions. People don't seem to understand that marriage is a two-way street, and that the affair could have been born of a reason other than simply him being a bastard. It's a biting comment on the cynical nature of opinion in the age of 24 hour news channels and social media. Nick enlists the services of celebrity lawyer Tanner Bolt, the excellent Tyler Perry, to mount his defence; that defence is as much about fighting the PR war as it would be about fighting a court case. As facts come to light, Bolt says "You two are most of the fucked up people I've ever met, and I deal with fucked up people for a living!" Amy's body hasn't been found, so it's unlikely that Nick would be convicted, though if he were he could face the death penalty. As they begin to investigate Amy's past - and past relationships - they begin to understand what has happened. We then start to see Amy's side of the story, and an explanation of why events have played out as they have.
Details of her scheme are intricately mapped out, and depicted in riveting fashion. At this point the story certainly loses its ambiguity, as the viewer now knows for sure that Amy isn't dead, and that Nick is guilty of not much more than adultery. But despite the sharp left turn it remains totally gripping, because things are unfolding in such a bizarre way that it's virtually impossible to predict how it all will end. The introduction of a character from Amy's past complicates things further and the shocking implications of her actions, both back home and further afield, come into focus. Neil Patrick Harris, as her High School flame Desi Collings, is billed third, so his (late) appearance is anticipated, but his behaviour is odd and unexpected. Amy's eventual inevitable return home gives rise to a moment which perfectly embodies the film's sardonic take on marriage; as the couple pose and beam for cameras, seemingly euphorically relieved to be reunited, Nick, having twigged to the ramifications of Amy's nefarious plan, leans in close and whispers in her ear "You fucking bitch". Till death do us part, indeed.
Many have commented that Affleck is a fitting choice to portray Nick, as he knows only too well what it's like to come under the judgmental spotlight of an indifferently subjective media. He performs superbly here, skillfully walking the fine line between likable, average Joe and sly guy with a secret. Rosamund Pike has a similarly tricky dual part to play but does so convincingly, so much so that the sociopathic schemer of the latter stages is so jarring, because the sexy, intelligent and loving Amy of the former stages is so attractive (in many senses of the word). Films like this probably won't fall into the Oscar basket, but I would have them both up for acting gongs. The supporting cast are all good too. The screenplay, adapted by Gillian Flynn from her own novel, is tight, smart, and bitterly funny. It's not too often that authors adapt their own novels for the screen; maybe it's too hard to step away from the original creation. But from what others have said, it's been ideal in this instance, as the diary structure had to be remixed, and certain elements had to be left out to work for cinema. Jeff (son of Jordan) Cronenweth's cinematography is nigh-on perfect. It contrasts the heat of the beautiful wide open Missouri landscapes, with Nick's loneliness in the increasingly oppressive empty house as the case goes on, opening out and brightening when Amy "frees" herself and goes on the road. The brooding electronic score, by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor, in their third collaborative work on Fincher movies, is minimal, menacing, and subliminally effective. There's a free stream of it here which is well worth checking out, if you're interested.
That being said, this is still a really good movie. David Fincher's direction is beyond question; he's one of the most consistently solid directors working today ("Alien 3" wasn't his fault). It's a genuine mystery, unpredictable, interesting, it throws up a range of thought-provoking questions, it's challenging, surprisingly funny in points, the dialogue is razor sharp ("We caused each other pain" says Nick at one point, "That's marriage" replies Amy) and is worth seeing much more than most other films out there at the moment. And it has the best-behaved cat in the history of cinema.
Just don't see it with your spouse.