While this is an enjoyable and well made film, the faults that prevent it from being anything more are those that it shares with the book on which it is based – an implausible couple who are the main characters, and a sense that we (the audience) are being manipulated rather than subtly seduced.
Gillian Flynn's best selling 2012 novel was always going to be made into a film; the only question was when and by whom. Now is the time, and the director is David Fincher who has already adapted Girl With A Dragon Tattoo from a successful novel.
Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) comes home from his bar one day to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) gone, and the house mildly trashed. The police are called, and a huge manhunt is set up to locate the missing woman (the girl in the title is alliterative rather than descriptive). Although there is no immediate evidence to link Nick with Amy's disappearance, the police are inevitably suspicious, and he doesn't help himself by an unfortunate capacity to behave unwisely. Or in other words, he's a bit of a dick.
Meanwhile, we are being shown Amy's diary which recounts the way in which the two of them met, the initially happy days and the gradual disintegration of their happiness. But of course as anyone who knows the book is aware, there is an unreliable narrator at work here; a problem which is exacerbated by the fact that whereas we only read words on a page, in a film we see images on the screen which add greater credibility to what we see, whether or not it is true.
And this is one of the book's flaws. Amy is simply not a fully realised or credible character. She is an excuse for a plot. We know her no better at the end of the film than we did at the beginning; which may be appropriate for someone who has disappeared, but becomes frustrating when it becomes clear that her version of events may be less than 100% accurate. In the same way, we never actually see her and Nick having a real everyday relationship. They only spend the last few minutes of the film together – and under circumstances that make it impossible for them to behave normally – and so we have no idea of why they got together in the first place, what made them tick, and what made them stop ticking. An explanation of sorts is offered, but it's a hypothesis rather than something visible and experienced.
And then of course there's the fact that neither Nick or Amy are especially nice or appealing people. In fact the only character with whom we might form some kind of empathetic bond is Margo, twin sister of Nick, whose loyalty to her brother, along with her anger at his frailties makes her both sensible and admirable. And as a final quibble, the film's inclusion of Desi, the character to whom Amy turns in her hour of need, is a mistake, just as he was in the book. His plot strand feels like a pointless diversion, with shades of another genre altogether, and simply makes the film longer than it needs to be while draining some of its energy. But given that the scriptwriter and the novelist are one and the same, she was never going to eliminate such a large chunk of her book.
This is one of those films whose appeal may to a large part depend on your response to the book, to which it is so faithful. I found both book and film page-turningly enjoyable, but lacking any real depth. It's an entertainment dressed up as a treatise on modern marriage. Like We Need To Talk About Kevin, it allows readers/viewers to indulge in a fantasy about how awful children/women can be, but the desire to shock (and be shocked) outweighs the desire to be truthful or thoughtful. I have nothing critical to say about the acting or direction, all of which are good. Just don't expect to see some kind of modern masterpiece. It's fun, but pointless fun.