Those who have read the blockbuster novel may be disappointed to know that author Gillian Flynn hasn't changed anything in adapting it to the big screen, so there aren't any surprises along the way. But they'll be glad to see the story so faithfully and skilfully adapted, with snaky direction from David Fincher and actors who add layers of new meaning to the characters. And non-readers are in for a thrillingly twisty experience as a mysterious conundrum shifts into a full-on thriller and then something much more intensely personal.
When Nick (Ben Affleck) discovers that his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is missing on their fifth wedding anniversary, he has no idea what has happened. As recounted in Amy's journal, their marriage has been a whirlwind of sexy highs and dark lows, as both writers lost their jobs in New York and moved to rural Missouri to take care of Nick's terminally ill mother. As a result, their marriage ran aground, and Nick increasingly turned to his twin sister Margot (Carrie Coon) for support. As two police officers (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) investigate Amy's disappearance, the media circus begins to paint Nick as a villain, led by rabid tabloid-TV host Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle). So while he suspects Amy's stalker-like ex (Neil Patrick Harris), Nick has little choice but hire a high-powered lawyer (Tyler Perry) to defend himself.
Even at nearly two and a half hours, this film races along breathlessly as events and revelations continually shift the perspective. It's clear from the start that neither Nick nor Amy (in diary-entry flashbacks) are particularly reliable narrators. Both are a bundle of secrets, although Nick remains far more sympathetic. Affleck gives one of his most textured performances in years as a nice guy who struggles to look "nice" for the cameras. His isolation and confusion are hugely involving, which contrasts strongly to Amy's far too confident point of view. Pike manages to bring out the peeling onion of Amy's personality beautifully, offering telling glimpses of the real woman beneath the characters she seems to always be playing. And the supporting cast add details that twist their roles as well. Dickens and Fugit are a terrific double act, while Coon and Harris constantly offer surprising hints about their characters beneath the bravado and concern.
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