Fincher’s latest film continues to build upon the themes that have dominated his last films; surveillance and its affect upon our lives, the façade that we present in public as opposed to private and the nature of celebrity. Fixed to a stronger narrative than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Fincher is more comfortable exploring America’s obsessions than Europe’s), it still feels subversive in its presentation, but is far more troubling than his previous films because the lines are far greyer. For once Fincher doesn’t provide the answer at resolution but instead leaves the audience to makes its mind up. There are no flashy dramatic sequences, no mind-bending editing, instead the story is told slowly and methodically leaving the hysterics to the watching audience as it tries to piece together what it has seen, with each film Fincher grows more and more confident in his ability to make a good film without needing to provide spectacle.
Is it a male fantasy about how women control their lives and manipulate the truth to their own ends? Yes, although the husband is shown to be far more domineering and dangerous as the story progresses, whilst the wife is trying to survive. Is it about women taking back control – again, yes, although at the cost of the lives of others. Fincher delights in creating a moral puzzle box, pulling our emotions back and forth between the protagonists (although it would be far too easy for your typical men’s-rights advocate to see the film as a complete justification of their argument). Only the twin sister emerges as a sympathetic figure, concerned that her brother has been set up for something that deep down she knows he hasn’t done, but also aware that his past actions have brought this on himself. There is no clear answer, Fincher wants you to be confused, presenting the story flatly as two equally horrendous people who in the end probably deserve each other.
This would make a great triple bill with American Beauty and Revolutionary Road, although you’d probably need to hide the drink by the time you got the end of the evening as if anything it’s the most depressing of the three.
Clearly such unsympathetic characters need charisma to carry and it’s here that Fincher delivers his secret weapons, two of the best performances of the year. Affleck is all affable charm and down to hearth honesty on the surface, but lying to save himself underneath and hiding some deeply unpleasant attitudes . Pike feels colder, the Hitchcock heroine damaged by others who becomes something far more sinister as the film progresses (and the lengths she is willing to go to). One’s potentially a sociopath, the other potentially a psychopath and both possibly deserves the other (although that would be a cynical view – in truth both need a lot of help) – the resolution leaves you weeping for how the y will end up raising children (seen as a way out of the dilemma they have created for themselves), Fincher wants you to be uncomfortable in your sympathies for either of them, questioning who (if anyone) you should be siding with.
For me this is probably Fincher’s best film since Zodiac, cold and calculating in its manipulation of the viewer (watch the opening credits and it’s version of the small town America opening – notice how the editing feels a little too sharp rather than the normal fade-out for an example of how it subverts the normal), more interested in people than events / set pieces. At times it feels more like the first American film of a European director, pulling apart American media’s obsessions and the industry that has built up around these crimes, the fact that the people involved see it as a way of easy celebrity. It’s a superb film, but not one that’s comfortable to watch.