A whodunnit to die for

A whodunnit to die for
British actress Pike is perfect for her role as Amy, whose disappearance kicks off the film's plot. But the real star is director Fincher.


Thriller/149 minutes/Opens today


The story: Based on the 2012 bestseller of the same title, the story follows the lives of suburban couple Nick and Amy Dunne (Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike). While Nick is out one morning, Amy disappears and a police investigation points to foul play. The case generates nationwide interest and Nick is soon the target of suspicion in some quarters and pity in others. Through flashbacks, they are shown as young writers, meeting in New York and falling in love, the world at their feet.

This is the week for English actresses playing American women on the edge. And just like Keira Knightley in Laggies, Pike at first appears to be an unexpected choice, but turns out to be as close a fit as one could imagine.

But let us not forget who the real star in this movie is. Director David Fincher owns this movie, from its leisurely opening section, when it looks as if it might be a portrait of a disintegrating marriage, to its middle section, when it becomes a suspense thriller, down to its final third, when it becomes something else again. The screenplay comes from Gillian Flynn, adapting her own novel.

Fincher is in breathtaking control of Flynn's genre-hopping story which relies heavily on not just what is to be revealed, but more importantly, when.

His camera watches Nick and Amy impassively, almost mockingly. When the story flashes back to their courtship and early years of marriage, for example, he lets the audience know that they are not so much living their lives as the cute, smart, sexy couple, as being acutely aware of the ideal of how a cute, smart and sexy couple ought to live the New York life, and living up to that internalised script. They are in a repartee-filled movie of their own making.

At one point, Amy even says: "We're so cute, even I want to punch us in the face." It is a wonderful moment, when a character speaks what the audience is thinking. It breaks the fourth wall in the best way.

And even as Fincher is dishing out the plot, he layers on more ideas. There is the commentary on the gruesome carnival that is the American news media, as personified in tabloid news interviewer Ellen Abbott (Missy Pyle), who uses folksy charm and good old common sense to draw any conclusion she likes, then uses it to whip the public into a frenzy.

Actor Tyler Perry, known for his broad comic turns in the Madea comedies, is shockingly good as Tanner Bolt, a high-priced lawyer whose advice covers not just the ostensible legal system, but also the real justice system operating in modern America: the court of public opinion, as shaped by 24/7 news coverage.

Fincher the realist (or pessimist, if you prefer) oversees this machine of so many moving parts with a baleful eye, staying just on the right side of misanthropy. He does not hate the characters as much as not trust any of them to live up to their notions of themselves. By the end of the movie, he should have convinced you of the same.

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