*WARNING – SPOILERS*
David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel works as a procedural, a domestic drama, and a meditation on modern tabloid culture. It is patient, methodical and mostly interesting, though contemporaneous commentary notwithstanding, it has nothing serious to say of love, marriage or the waning of romance, which is what it purports to examine. Sure, there is perfunctory sex, Pike’s voiceover vituperation over the rigors of being the junior partner, and some suggested physical violence, all of little import. In the end, it’s a monster movie, an elegant, crisp, well-acted monster movie in the hands of one of our more meticulous directors, but a mere monster movie nonetheless.
The monster’s victim is Ben Affleck, who is surprisingly savvy as the husband set up for the ultimate fall by his seemingly perfect wife (Rosamund Pike). Affleck is an apt choice for a weak man searching for a lifeline while his world crashes around him. Affleck the actor has often failed due to a lack of depth, a certain surface charm that has nothing beneath it, and here, he uses that to his advantage. He is complemented by Carrie Coon, who plays his loyal but disapproving sister, and Kim Dickens (Deadwood), the skeptical detective investigating the disappearance of Pike.
There are two strange casting choices, one that works out and one not so much. Tyler Perry has been trying to shake off Madea, and as a high profile, cable news ready criminal defense attorney, he does so, bringing some real wit to the role. As Pike’s former paramour, however, Neil Patrick Harris is thin, almost lost. He is too strongly rooted in broad comedy and he works to overcome that persona with a deliberate, cautious performance that is creepier and more distracting than it should be.
The story, however, is riveting, told first from the vantage point of the increasingly beleaguered Affleck and the flashbacks of Pike as she narrates from her diary. Theirs is a storybook romance that eventually succumbs to the pressures of money, familiarity and recrimination. Except for one difference. Pike is nuts, a serial fantasist who destroys anyone who rejects her.
Pike’s predecessors – Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction and Bonnie Bedelia in Presumed Innocent – were in their own ways every bit as batshit crazy, but both women were decidedly more nuanced. Close’s jilted one-weekend stand refused to be ignored by Michael Douglas, but there was a discernible crack in her facade that made her sympathetic. Like Pike, Bedelia not only wanted to torture her husband and insisted upon his fealty after the fact, but her rebellion against the invasion of the impossibly attractive Greta Scacchi was sold as the aging frump protecting her castle and its king, Harrison Ford. Pike, however, is The Terminator (or maybe Rebecca De Mornay in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle), so psychopathic that she sets up all her former paramours when they as much as back away. Accordingly, any observation she or the film offers on the nature of marriage or relationships are no more than the ravings of a lunatic, even if this particular lunatic is cool, calm and seemingly accomplished. She’s loathsome and it’s hard to care much about the fate of Affleck, who chooses to sally forth with her even after she tries to destroy him. Which makes for an ultimately silly movie, but one that is a great deal of fun arriving at its pointlessness.