With everyone having immediate opinions about everything now — and sharing them on social media a moment later — it’s not surprising that huge controversies swirl around announcements of major movie casting decisions.
A few weeks ago, much of the comic book movie crowd was up in arms about the decision to have Ben Affleck play Bruce Wayne/Batman in a forthcoming film that will follow the much-acclaimed Warner Bros. trilogy featuring Christian Bale.
Affleck doesn’t have the intensity of Bale, and he failed the test of an early comic book role (“Daredevil”), so some of the upset is understandable.
Since I am not a big fan of comic book films, however, I don’t have a strong pro or con feeling about Affleck as Batman. As Matt Damon put it in a recent interview, it’s not as if his friend has been cast in “King Lear.”
From my point of view, a bigger mistake might have been made by director David Fincher in placing Affleck in the male lead of the forthcoming movie adaptation of the Gillian Flynn bestseller, “Gone Girl.”
The book has gone from mere bestseller to pop culture phenomenon — it remains high on the hardcover New York Times list 15 months after publication — moving into the same rarified air as “The DaVinci Code” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
The difference between the Flynn book and the other two blockbusters is that a shroud of moral ambiguity hangs over the characters of Nick Dunne and his wife Amy (who goes missing on their fifth wedding anniversary).
The men in the Dan Brown and Stieg Larsson novels are traditional heroes.
Nick is someone we are not sure about as we read his side of the story (Flynn gives the husband and wife separate, alternating chapters in which they address us directly).
Because Affleck is a star — who has not specialized in morally complex characters — casting him in “Gone Girl” could tip the balance in favor of his character, especially with a relative unknown (Rosamund Pike) playing Amy.
The book works because the two characters are equals (in terms of their hold on us). Affleck will naturally overshadow an actress many moviegoers won’t be familiar with.
The casting also reverses another element in the novel, the age difference between the husband and wife. 34-year-old Nick often seems emotionally dominated by Amy, at least partially due to the fact that she is six years older than him.
Fincher has cast the 34-year-old Pike opposite the 41-year-old Affleck, making Nick in this version significantly more mature than his spouse.