DIRECTOR DAVID FINCHER!
Can you think of a more skilled film director than David Fincher? Seriously. I don't mean a hyphenated writer/director, or an outright auteur filmmaker, but just as a flat-out visual storyteller, who's been better than Fincher over the last 20 years or so? Ridley Scott maybe? But even now, at this stage of their respective careers, I'm not even sure that argument holds water. To my mind, if we're simply talking about the ability to take someone's script, one you had very little to no involvement in creating, and turning that script into a masterful-mélange of sound and image...very few, if any, rank higher than Fincher. Dude's the man in that regard, and has been so since making killer, cutting-edge music videos back in the 80s and 90s.
Of course, we here at AITH will always remain partial to Fincher because of his intrinsic love of all things genre. ALIEN 3, SE7EN, THE GAME, FIGHT CLUB, PANIC ROOM, ZODIAC and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO are all top-notch efforts that actually transcend their genre in a way that will endure ad infinitum in the ether of pop culture. Well, maybe not ALIEN 3, but you get the point. And since he's putting the finishing touches on his new flick GONE GIRL, lads and lasses, let us Dissect the two-decade career of one David Fincher!
In terms of striking a balance between huge mainstream success and endured pop cultural resonance - Fincher's finest films have to be SE7EN and FIGHT CLUB, both of which happen to star Brad Pitt. But since the former is a tad more AITH appropriate, let's examine why SE7EN continues to work so well...
SE7EN turns 20 years old next year, and having just seen it recently, I can honestly say few 20 year old films hold up as well as Fincher's grim masterwork of detective fiction. It starts with the wildly imaginative script by Andrew Kevin Walker, laying such an original conceit around a psychotic serial killer using the 7 Deadly Sins as his basis for justified murder. Jon Doe is a monster, no doubt, but it's that he thinks he's actually doing society good by dispatching his carefully chosen victims - criminals, all - that truly disturbs the line of moral conscience. Original scenes of horror like the overfed Gluttony victim, or the Lusty hooker who gets fucked to death by a bladed-dildo...all start on the page. So too does the jaw-dropping finale (or should I say head dropping), which, believe it or not, the studio pleaded for Fincher to scrap once it came to filming. But star Brad Pitt used whatever clout he had at the time and said he refused to make the movie unless the original ending was left intact. He got his way.
And that brings us to casting. Can you think of a more perfectly-pitched odd couple of dicks working the case than Pitt and Freeman - the salty old vet and the scrappy upstart? Hell, maybe Hart and Cohle from True Detective, which no doubt has SE7EN to directly thank. But then you also have Kevin Spacey, who won an Oscar the same year for playing Keyser Soze, giving one of the most genuinely chilling performances I can personally recall. So calm, so subdued, yet so clear in his twisted logic, and so maniacally monstrous in his murderous ways. The rain-dappled Seattle setting was also an inspired choice, adding a dark and dreary visual aesthetic that perfectly reinforces the story material. Look, I could go on and on, but we all know SE7EN remains one of the all time best serial-killer-detective flicks, in near totality because of David Fincher!
Even Fincher's worst is superior to roughly 80% of the field, so take this indictment with a grain of salt. And sure, we could easily cite ALIEN 3, David's feature debut, as his worst effort. But since it was his first time out, and let's face it, having to succeed Ridley Scott and James Cameron was a losing proposition to start with - let's instead call PANIC ROOM Fincher's weakest film to date. Not a bad film though, far from it, but as a much-awaited follow-up to FIGHT CLUB, I'm sure more than a few were disappointed with the overall result. It just felt like a step backwards for Fincher.
In the high-tech home invasion thriller - Jodie Foster plays a rich Manhattanite who moves into a gaudy new brownstone with her daughter Kristin Stewart. There, the two are met by the most random of thieving trios - Forrest Whitaker, Jared Leto and Dwight Yoakam - who break into the new abode looking for the vast riches tucked away on the property. A slick cat and mouse game ensues, as Foster her and daughter hole up inside the titular panic room, which is equipped with all kinds of surveillance and survival gadgets (air, water, etc). Again, it's a solid thriller, but for a Fincher effort, feels sort of sleight and underwhelming...especially in its redolence of WAIT UNTIL DARK, the sublime Audrey Hepburn thriller from 1967. Yet, as a single-set claustrophobic thriller, you can do a lot worse than PANIC ROOM.
Like the great Stanley Kubrick, Fincher has earned a rep for being a fastidious craftsman, a tireless perfectionist who often demands many takes to achieve a desired shot. Some actors love it, some hate it, but one thing remains certain, it's Fincher's show and he'll do whatever it takes to properly lens his vision. Gotta respect a dude like that. Of course, that's just scratching the surface of Fincher's directorial trademarks. He also peppers his pictures with personal touches that show up again and again, such as splicing a flash-frame image into seemingly unrelated scene, a la FIGHT CLUB. Low angles, dingy key-lighting, wide shots, balletic tracking sequences, faces in silhouette, static shots of a person slowly walking into focus - are all visual techniques Fincher time and time again employs in his own distinct way to achieve optimal effect. The dude has mastered the frame!
Then of course, there's the thematic. One of the reasons why we love Fincher so much is because of his never-ending fascination with humanity's dark side. His films normally feature broken protagonists, with downbeat endings, often involving either a failed or successful suicide attempt. Dude's unafraid to go to hellish places with his stories and characters, yet constantly keeps them riveting and entertaining every step of the way. Hell, dude did a movie about Facebook and made the shite play out like bank heist...dude's got that kind of chops!
Because of the overshadowing success of SE7EN and FIGHT CLUB, I feel pretty strongly there's a pair of hidden gems sitting under Fincher's circum-vitae. The first is THE GAME, which I hold a nostalgic fondness for having seen it in the theater with my dad when I was 14. Loved it then, and like Fincher's others, I still love the way it holds up to this day. What a damn good flick! Often cited as the exemplary post-modern film work - THE GAME is one of those dizzying, narrative-within-the-narrative puzzles that blurs the line between what's real and what's staged - all surrounding one man's personal game. In this case, it's Nicolas Van Orton, played beautifully by Michael Douglas - as a powerful but icy-cold business man in much need of an attitude adjustment. That he gets, and much more, as his brother Conrad (Sean Penn) arranges the most elaborate hoax ever conceived. Through a series of near death experiences, Nicolas is forced the hard to way to appreciate life, with this newfound perspective serving as a major change agent. He's no longer the cold, calculating, money-obsessed asshole...he's been humbled and humiliated, brought back to earth. A wonderful film with a trenchant message!
An equally wonderful film, perhaps even more deeply layered, is Fincher's ZODIAC from 2007. To me this is the real hidden gem in David's resume, as criminally overlooked by the masses as the murderer in the story itself - the infamous Zodiac Killer. Evocative of the great 70s crime-thrillers we all know and love, almost ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN-like, ZODIAC follows the investigation at the granular level - tracking the smallest leads, following clues, finding dead-ends, landing an unexpected break, etc...the kind of micro-detective work television has adopted in stuff like The Wire and True Detective. Again, Fincher's attention to detail in recreating Northern California in the 70s is absolutely impeccable, the sets, the costumes, the film stock, the cars and customs...all dead on! Of course, what's a film without its cast? ZODIAC features fine performances by Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, John Caroll Lynch, Brian Cox, Anthony Edwards, Elias Koteas, Chloe Sevigny, John Getz and many more...in a sweeping epic of a 242 minute runtime. And perhaps best of all? In typical Fincher fashion, the film ends on an untidy down-note, sans of pat Hollywood happy endings. Of course, the material called for such, as the real-life Zodiac Killer was never caught.
Perhaps poised for an awards season run, Fincher's next flick is a thrilling quasi-whodunit called GONE GIRL, currently slated for an October 3, 2014 release. The project, which longtime TV critic turned novelist Gillian Flynn adapted into a screenplay from her own novel, seems perfectly suitable for what Fincher does best: murder, mystery and intrigue!
Peep the official synopsis:
On the occasion of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne reports that his wife, Amy, has gone missing. Under pressure from the police and a growing media frenzy, Nick's portrait of a blissful union begins to crumble. Soon his lies, deceits and strange behavior have everyone asking the same dark question: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?"
No bullshit, given the premise, is there a better director to realize such material? I highly doubt it, which is probably why the tagline for GONE GIRL simply boasts: "From The Director of SE7EN and ZODIAC." That indicates what kind of tone and tenor the flick should follow, and the investigative nature of the narrative that Fincher is so damn skilled at crafting. Based on his talent alone, and proven track record in this arena, I instantly catapult GONE GIRL to the top of the 2014 must-see list, even if it does star Ben Affleck. Oh I jape, but the truth is, Fincher has earned the right to regard every new flick of his a priority.
Any true film buff should know deep down that David Fincher is pretty peerless as a film director. Dude represents quality over quantity in the best sense of the phrase, taking his time, never rushing or compromising his vision. He's made 10 features in roughly 22 years, including ALIEN 3, SE7EN, FIGHT CLUB, PANIC ROOM, ZODIAC, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and soon, GONE GIRL will round out Fincher's genre resume to date. In fact, only THE SOCIAL NETWORK and THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON don't have deep seeded genre roots, the other 8 films not only celebrate genre, they all, each one of them, transcend the form they follow. While SE7EN and FIGHT CLUB are likely to remain the flicks he's most noted for, both THE GAME and ZODIAC deserve to mentioned in the same breath. They're truly tremendous flicks.
Even in the rare missteps, ALIEN 3 and PANIC ROOM, Fincher imbues his trademark style that instantly elevates the material, and does so in such a distinguished way that you can usually tell when you're watching a Fincher flick. That's the highest compliment right there, one made even more impressive due to the fact Fincher has never written any of the scripts he's filmed. Dude's a specialist of the highest talent!