I’m going to do my best to not slip with any spoilers. But, just in case, I’ll bottom line it now: see this for Pike’s performance and Fincher’s handling of Flynn’s script. Just know it isn’t a light watch nor a pleasant story. That Fincher still keeps it interesting with those handicaps is part of why it is worth seeing.
So that I can also discuss the conversion from book to film, I’m also posting a new adaptation discussion. Avoid that post if you’ve not read the book or watched the movie or you will learn too much. Just no way around that if I want to examine the process.
With that out of the way…
It isn’t entirely out of place to describe this film as a modernized, darker (and humorless) War of the Roses. It starts off dark and just keeps travelling that path deeper into the woods. Fincher (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) manages to keep it from being so suffocating that you don’t stop walking with him, but it isn’t light fare or any kind of date movie despite its relationship focus. He accomplishes this feat in part by leaving a lot for the audience to judge rather than judging it for them. While there are certainly music clues and such to indicate dread or fear or confusion, most of the implication is left for the viewer to come to on their own as they parse the information. In part, Fincher does this to keep the pacing such that you allow yourself to take the ride rather than get ahead of the plot. In part, it is due to the structure and highly internal nature of the story. Either way, it works by keeping you from screaming at the film or wanting to cut your wrists, depending on your personal reaction.
We primarily run the gauntlet from Affleck’s (Argo) point of view. He creates a somewhat magnetic, damaged, bumbler with his own set of secrets and stories to tell. He does a great job with what he has, but it is Pike (The World’s End) who steals the film, creating a singular character that won’t soon be forgotten. And Oscar nominators agree it was worth noting.
There are a few supporting roles worth noting as well; most notably improvements on the book characters. Pyles’ (Jennifer Falls) withering, and yet still too kind, imitation of Nancy Grace is fun to watch. She also serves for showing up current society’s leashing and fascination with media and how that can both help and poison our lives and the truth.
Dickens (Treme) runs a narrow path between belief and hope as she investigates the situation. Perry (Alex Cross) provides a believable, almost likable, high-paid, bottom-feeding attorney. Coon (The Leftovers) as Affleck’s twin sister walks her own line to be both supportive and concerned. Fugit (Wristcutters: A Love Story) fills out a nice, small character in book and movie. Finally, Ward (CSI: NY) provides a delightfully twisted Jekyll to Pyles’ presentation. My only real acting disappointment was Harris (Million Ways to Die in the West); but I think his character was the most simplified of the supporting roles and, despite some nuance, he drifted into the background.
Overall, this is an inventive, cleverly told tale that will keep you frustrated and fascinated, a credit to both writer and director.