Mentioning David Fincher has become synonymous with saying “masterclass filmmaking”, and rightfully so. His signature hyper-realistic aesthetic that manages to be both grimy and razor-sharp at the same time is something that has often been imitated, but never duplicated. It’s a given at this point in his career that anything he does will be highly regarded, but also that he’ll deserve the praise. Naturally, none of that has changed with his most recent film, a cheerfully nasty and darkly comical piece of storytelling that follows Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), whose wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) disappears on the morning of their 5th anniversary with him as the most likely suspect behind it all. As the story unravels, you realize that there are 2 truths being spun between Nick and Amy. What’s great is that you’re never sure which truth is more unsettling.
With Ben Affleck spending the last half-decade or so turning himself into a terrific director including directing a little film that won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2012, it’s easy to forget just how much of an accomplished actor he’s become along the way, giving good to great performances since all the way back in 2006 with Hollywoodland. Still though, he hasn’t been put to a use as effective as this before. Fincher seems to understand that there is something so hate-worthy about Affleck – just read what some had to say about his casting as Batman – Affleck seems to understand this as well as he is in on the take. There is an untrustworthy smugness to Affleck’s demeanor in general, and the understanding of that by Affleck and Fincher creates interesting variations on that perception. I’m not sure yet if this is Affleck’s best acting work, but I am sure that this is the best use of him as an actor to date.
Rosamund Pike gives a performance that will forever cement her in film history and our collective memories. It’s difficult to discuss why she’s so amazing in this role without getting into plot specifics, but I’ll do my best. The opening line is delivered by Affleck: “What are you thinking?” as we gaze upon her impenetrable yet angelic fortress of a face in the act of thought. That line perfectly sums up the game she plays with the audience – What is she thinking? What’s going on in that head? She never lets you in easily, and by the time you think you’ve figured it out, you wish you’d never known.
The supporting cast is pieced together well. Carrie Coon continues to prove herself after being the most consistently great performer this Summer on The Leftovers, providing engaging wit and lived-in chemistry with Affleck as Nick’s twin sister Margo. Kim Dickens has a great presence as the lead detective assigned to the case. Neil Patrick Harris proves he can be unnerving and Tyler Perry proves he can be magnetic. The always-terrific Scoot McNairy shows up for one scene to provide a paranoid performance.
This is the most subdued work that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have delivered for Fincher. It’s a perfect compliment to the film, accenting the tension without you realizing it. It gets under your skin and leaves you with a pit in your stomach, and wondering how the hell it got there.
You expect dark and twisted things from the guy who brought you the basement scene in Zodiac, but not much will prepare you for how nasty this film really is. Fincher’s guiding hand as a storyteller – with Fincher regular Director of Photography Jeff Cronenwerth and a master script by the novel’s author Gillian Flynn – is impressive as always in how it guides the audience through shifting perceptions and characters, veering away from expectations to a conclusion that will leave everyone wanting a shower. This is a film that nobody, not even the audience, walks away from clean. And somehow, that’s why it’s so fantastic.