This is the second consecutive film we’ve seen at the Errol Flynn that has been a sell-out – the other being the splendid Pride. Directed by David Fincher, who made Seven (very good) and The Social Network (a bit tedious) and starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, whose Hedda Gabler we saw in Oxford a few years ago, this is Gillian Flynn’s own adaptation of her best-selling novel.
Hopefully this won’t give too much away: Nick Dunne comes home one day to find a glass occasional table smashed and on its side and no sign of his wife Amy. She’s the real life version of the fictitious Amazing Amy, heroine of a series of books written by her parents, thereby making her disappearance instantly interesting to the media. Imagine if A A Milne’s Christopher Robin was thought to be at the bottom of a lake somewhere, that’s the kind of thing. Nick is initially helpful with the cops, but they start to suspect him of her murder, and he doesn’t help himself by his ability to grin inanely when posing by a poster of his missing wife, or allow himself to be hoodwinked by a pretty journo into co-operating with an inappropriate selfie. As the case mounts against him – despite the lack of a body – he enlists the help of Ace Defence Lawyer Tanner Bolt. Add to the melting point a little infidelity, harassment of his twin sister, Amy’s unpredictable ex-boyfriend, and a couple of mud-raking gossip-mongering TV chat-show hosts, and there’s plenty for Detective Rhonda Boney to get her teeth into. And there’s also the fascinating unravelling story of what actually did happen to Amy.
It’s a gripping story, tightly told, with an excellent cast and some scary moments. As usual, I missed the first few minutes of dialogue as I couldn’t make out a damn thing they said whilst I adjusted to their muttering accents. I was also struck by how dark some of the scenes were – not in a moody, portentous way, but literally lacking in light. This was particularly noticeable in some scenes with Mr Affleck, where he often seemed to be lurking in gloom, almost as though he wasn’t entirely happy with our seeing how he’s ageing. I’m sure that wasn’t the motivation, but I did find the deliberate darkness rather irritating.
When you could see what Mr Affleck was doing, he was extremely good. Blundering hopelessly into traps set for him, and not only by the police, it’s a very credible performance of an ordinary guy trying to cope with devastatingly public difficulties way beyond his usual experience. Even though he’s a louse in many ways, you do take his side and he actually becomes quite heroic, which is an interesting manipulation of the viewer’s morals. Miss Pike, too, was very effective as Amy, filling in her diary-driven backstory, convincingly changing appearance from society girl to trailer park trashette as the plot thickens. At times there was more than something of the Fatal Attraction bunny-boiler about her, which added a nice sense of suspense.
I was very impressed with Kim Dickens as the detective; suspicious, reasonable, firm but eventually powerless to see justice through to its proper conclusion; and I liked her badinage with her assisting officer, played by Patrick Fugit. Neil Patrick Harris plays Amy’s ex-boyfriend Desi with just the tiniest bit of the unhinged about him which makes you think the story might progress in a different direction. Carrie Coon gives the character of Nick’s twin Margo a lot of attitude, fiercely defensive of her brother and even more fiercely attacking him when he lets her down; and Sela Ward plays TV hostess Sharon Shieber with chillingly attractive venom.
It’s a long film at two and a half hours, but it really does hold your attention all the way through; I wouldn’t say that the time flies by exactly, but it certainly doesn’t seem too arduous. What’s really aggravating is the uncertain ending! You’re crying out for some natural justice to win the day but it’s not going to happen. Still, it’s a realistic way of finishing the film, and you can always add your own supposition as to what might have happened next.
Arresting, exciting, with surprising plot twists and not a little disturbing; what more could you want from a thriller?