Rated R. Running time: 2 hour 29 min.
Our content ratings(0-10): Violence 5; Language 6 ; Sex 7/Nudity 3.
Our star rating (0-5): 4
The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?
Jeremiah 9:7-8; 17:9 (KJV)
Margo Channing’s (Remember Betty Davis in All About Eve?) famous dictum, “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night,” certainly applies to this film noir! David Fincher’s direction of Gilliam Flynn’s screenplay based on her own best-selling novel is full of surprises, more so than a hundred boxes of Cracker Jacks. Running for almost 2 ½ hours the film is far longer than most, but the time seemed to rocket by, so engrossing a character study is it, as well as full of surprises!
On the fifth anniversary of his marriage to Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) Nick (Ben Affleck) stops in at The Bar and orders a drink. The bar tender turns out to be his sister Margo (Carrie Coon). B.B. King’s song “The Thrill is Gone” plays in the background, hinting that all is not going well at home. Returning home, Nick discovers the coffee table upside down and smashed, glass particles strewn all over. We see a small reddish smear high up on the kitchen wall. There is no answer when he calls for Amy. Puzzled by her disappearance, Nick dials 911. The two cops who come to investigate are Detectives Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit). Because of the coffee table, they decide not to wait the usual 24 hours after the report of a missing person, but to start their investigation right away. They discover that traces of blood in the kitchen remain from an attempt to wash it away. In the fireplace is what could be a blunt instrument. Although no charges are filed, the detectives are very suspicious of Nick.
There is in the left corner of the screen a countdown, first the hours, and then the days and weeks. Interspersed among the scenes of Nick we hear Amy’s voice writing in a diary. Along with her growing disenchantment with Nick, we see flashbacks to their New York City days. They had met at a party where they were instantly drawn to each other. He wrote articles for a men’s magazine, and she lived off a trust, supplemented by her writing a column for another magazine. The trust had been set up for her by her indulgent parents, made rich by the children’s series “Amazing Amy” that they had written. They had taken incidents from her childhood and highly embellished them, making her far more, well, “amazing,” than she actually was.
After their wedding Amy supplements her income by writing quizzes for women’s magazines, while Nick writes for a glossy gentleman’s magazine. During each of their anniversaries Amy makes him follow elaborate anniversary “treasure hunts.” When the economic downturn hits the country both lose their jobs. At the same time Nick’s mother is struck by an incurable disease, so the two decide to pack up and move to Missouri to assist his twin sister Margo in caring for her. It was Amy’s trust fund that enabled brother and sister to purchase The Bar.
Not long after her disappearance Rand and Marybeth Elliot (David Clennon and Lisa Banes), Amy’s parents fly in to help Nick with the search. There has been a media frenzy, attracting hundreds to join the search through the nearby fields and woods. Before long much of the public shares the detectives suspicions of Nick, much of this fueled by Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle), a cable show host known for her attacks on male domination and domestic violence. The strange clues that Amy has left for their fifth anniversary treasure hunt also add to the feeling that Nick is guilty. Then comes out into the open a secret that convinces the cops that Nick is guilty. Not even Margo, by now about the only one who believes in her brother, knew about this. Nick finds himself forced to bring in celebrity defense lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry). But, despite the way Nick behaves and is regarded, is Amy really dead? The answer to that leads us along a path with many a twist and curves so sharp that you cannot see around them.
The last part of the film might be too sexy and violent for some, but for those who want a fresh take on film noir, this film supplies it. Supported by an excellent cast, Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck capture both the charm and the underlying nastiness of the husband and wife, whose present hatred is as strong as their former passionate love had been.
Old Jeremiah might well have been thinking of such folk when he made his observance about the human heart. Although we are capable of noble things, we can also, as we see in this film, sink lower than the beasts. The way the film ends makes me think of the famous play by Existentialist John-Paul Sartre, No Exit, in which one of three dead persons, sentenced to spend the afterlife in a room together, declares, “Hell is other people!”
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the Nov. 2014 issue of Visual Parables.