Close-Up : David Fincher

David Fincher in action.

People will say, ‘There are a million ways to shoot a scene,’ but I don’t think so. I think there’re two, maybe. And the other one is wrong.

A master of the dark, and now surprisingly a social commentator, David Fincher didn’t have the best start to his directing career. The bashed Alien3 didn’t introduce us to the same Fincher that we know now, a man who seems much older than his years, with style that is sleek, dark and thrilling but a nervous, overtly stylized Fincher, who went head to head with movie-execs and seemed to be working out of spite. If he wasn’t packing a hell of a punch with his next film, his career would’ve been just that, two movies and a streamline of music videos, commercials and tv spots.

But what he did shove down the throats of critics after a migtful bashing? Se7en. What’s in the box!!? In my previous post, I hail Fincher as my favourite director, mainly because of his Territoire Foncé, his trifecta of darkness, Se7en-Fight Club-Zodiac, films that all would probably reach my top 20 films of all time. Se7en was something that people got really excited about, they buzzed about it. It was gruesome, it was cruel, it certainly didn’t have a happy ending. Nor do many of Fincher’s films. I myself am a big fan of the tragedy, the Greek kind, where everyone ends up dying or killing themselves at the end; most of the time the happy ending seems like such a cop-out, a desperate cling to the audience at the very end, “please love me”. Fincher doesn’t aim to please, he doesn’t compromise his storytelling, he presents it as is, and let’s people have their own reaction, rather than feeding the Hollywood ideal to them.

After Se7en came The Game, a mystery thriller starring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn revolving around the future of gaming, ‘Consumer Recreation Services’. A film that was a tough nut to crack, wider audiences weren’t feeling it getting in their heads. Being an avid thriller and crime series watcher, there’s not many Law and Order episodes where I haven’t guessed the ending in the first few moments, even when it’s the supposedly dead sister whodunnit. Here you’ll never know, and even when you know, you still don’t. Fincher seems to be drawn to stories that don’t have that final solution (similar to Nolan in that way), stories that keep you guessing and filling in the blanks yourself. In a way that’s the best type of director, someone who leaves the audience room to fill up the film with their own ideas, emotions and thoughts.

And then, there was Fight Club, a film that I consider a modern classic, a film that’s very close to being perfect. Fincher continues his love affair with Brad Pitt and brings in the actor that made my love for film even stronger, Ed Norton. The best films come from great pairings, whether it’s actor-actor, or director-actor. Known for making actors do several, even insane amounts of takes, Fincher gets them to bring everything they have to the table.

2002’s Panic Room was mediocre, yet a solid thriller, and I like to believe that even when directing this, Finchie was mentally preparing for Zodiac.

I tend to not go overboard in my appreciation for some films, I recognise their flaws (because every movie has them) and often play down their triumphs in my head in order to be pleased time and time again with every viewing. But there’s something about Zodiac that makes me forget about all my limitations on how much I should be recommending a movie so that people’s expectations might even remotely live up to my words of appraisal. This is the Zodiac speaking.. It might be my a tad macabre fascination with serial killers and my hopeful career as a criminologist that gave that extra edge in this film for me, but it’s biggest triumphs are in atmosphere and acting. Gyllenhaal and RDJ pull out remarkable stuff in a setting that in other hands could’ve been very limiting; it’s hard to pull the attention away from a random (?) serial killer. True stories are hard, especially when they involve an unsolved murder case, but yet again Fincher brings it home.

In recent years, we’ve seen The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a film I didn’t really “get” (though there’s a chance I still might) and the wonderous surprise hit of 2010, The Social Network.

I have a philosophy about the two extremes of filmmaking. The first is the “Kubrick way,” where you’re at the end of an alley in which four guys are kicking the shit out of a wino. Hopefully, the audience members will know that such a scenario is morally wrong, even though it’s not presented as if the viewer is the one being beaten up; it’s more as if you’re witnessing an event. Inversely, there’s the “Spielberg way,” where you’re dropped into the middle of the action and you’re going to live the experience vicariously – not only through what’s happening, but through the emotional flow of what people are saying. It’s a much more involved style. I find myself attracted to both styles at different times, but mostly I’m interested in just presenting something and letting people decide for themselves what they want to look at.

Top Picks

Fight Club (1999)

People that don’t “get” Fight Club are no friends of mine. Fincher pulled more brilliance out of an astonishing book by one of my favourite authors. The Norton-Pitt pair remains as one of the best male duos on screen. It holds multiple viewings and it keeps surprising, in a way it’s movie making at its best; there’s no weak parts, technically it’s brilliant and it has edge, flavour.

It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.

Se7en (1995)

As I’ve pointed out before, the serialkiller vs cop genre is extremel close to my heart, and any type of variation is something I’m not going to miss out on. Se7en brought with it a boost to the genre, inspiring others for better and for worse.

Zodiac (2007)

I don’t really have anyo words about Zodiac other than it is a film that everyone that even slightly like thrillers needs to see. In all aspects it’s pretty much Tier 1.

Skip This

Alien³ (1992)

Alien³ turned out to be a major disappointment, an unsympathetic sequel to two of the greatest sci-fi horrors of all time. Fincher recites Alien as one of his favourite movies of all time, one of his inspirations, and surely had no intention on delivering .. this. Many had problems with his stylistic decisions, but thankfully his career didn’t end there. Even though many blamed him for ruining the franchise, few can no say it was due to his lack of talent.

Coming Up

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Everyone is already getting their knickers in a twist over this one. Fincher is going remake, and not even the kind of acceptable “Let’s remake this 30’s movie in a modern setting” but the “Oh there’s this really awesome foreign movie that Americans won’t see because they don’t like subtitles.. what should we do?”- kind. I’m just going to put it out there, I know this is going to be good. I’m the biggest supporter of Nordic/Scandinavian cinema, and understand the problem that’s underlying this remake, BUT I have all the confidence in the world in both Fincher and Daniel Craig to pull this off. I mean, I’ve seen every crime thriller, detective story to ever come out Sweden, I’ve read every crime novel they’ve done, and believe me, even though the Millenium series is absolutely fantastic, you’re missing so much more. Of course it’s the most shocking and intricate one that’s been done in the past few years, but let’s not pretend that Fincher is comitting some kind of crime here. After seeing this teaser, I’m even more confident that it’s going to work. Besides, Nordic stuff can get really dark and melancholic, and I get that it doesn’t appeal to everyone, that’s why AMC’s The Killing is great and Let Me In worked, they seperated themselves as different works, but stayed true to the original’s wibe, but with different pacing and emphasis.


14 responses to “Close-Up : David Fincher

  1. Pingback: You all need to read this… « Perspective on Pop Culture·

  2. Stoked for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I’ve seen some of Fincher’s films, but I haven’t seen Alien 3, The Game, Panic Room, or Zodiac.

  3. When it come to Dragon Tattoo, I am a fan of the novels as well as the films and was initially uneasy with even the great Fincher doing a version of it. After seeing the first trailer, I’m now more excited. Sometimes remakes can be fantastic as witnessed with the U.S. version of “Let the Right One In” Sure it wasn’t necessary, but it was done with a lot of class and stuck close to the spirit of the original. Fingers crossed !

  4. Great piece Anna. Fincher is one of my favourite directors too. Se7en is one of my all-time favourite films (#2 actually), but his entire resume is fantastic. I love Fight Club and Zodiac, but The Social Network , which was the best film of 2010 (by a long way), is absolute perfection. I’m really looking forward to ‘Dragon Tattoo’.

  5. Great piece! Fincher is definitely in my top directors list – FIGHT CLUB is my favourite of his, but I also adore THE SOCIAL NETWORK and SE7EN.

    I do think you under rate PANIC ROOM thought. Personally I reckon it’s a fantastic thriller that really gives Fincher the chance to play with his toys, and has the same dark, beautiful look as the rest of his films. Care to comment further on the film?

    I too can’t wait for his take on THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, despite the fact that I flat out despised the Swedish version of the film (which was overlong and terribly paced). But the teaser looks great and…well…it’s Fincher. How could I not be excited?

    • TBH it has been a while since I’ve seen Panic Room but compared to Fincher’s other works, I thought it was much more predictable than any other Fincher. Directing ways it’ great and the actors do a nice job, but storywise it is nothing special.

      • That’s definitely fair enough. It is a pretty standard thriller in a lot of ways; Fincher just elevates it (as always) through his mastery of his camera

  6. I totally like Fincher’s work – even Panic Room but I am sitting on the fence about “Girl With the Dragon Tatoo” I have seen 2/3 of the original Swedish films. I really liked the first one, the second one is alright and I have not finished the last one to this day. I am willing to give the Fincher version a chance but am not sure it will be as raw as the Swedish-language edition.

  7. I haven’t seen Panic Room, but Fincher himself calls it a more mainstream thriller. And on the DVD commentary he’s quoted as calling it “a date movie” and “a really good B-movie.”

  8. @ Tom, I agree with your thoughts on the Swedish ‘Dragon Tattoo’. It is poorly directed and not particularly good in any way. I’ll tell you, it is a hell of a lot better than the latter two. I really think Fincher will get it right, and I hope he just sticks to ‘Dragon Tattoo’. It has the best story, and can really stand alone.

    • Sadly I don’t think he will just do the one. It’s still going to pull the audiences in in a big way, and even if not brilliant, will probably warrant the rest of the trilogy.

  9. My favourite Fincher is Fight Club, which I thought surpassed the book, agree it’s a modern classic, technically brilliant and thought-provoking, a rare combination in mainstream hollywood. People always seem to remember it for the twist, for me that was not so interesting(only on the first or second viewing). Often misunderstood, I think Ebert said it encourages violence, which I don’t think is the point. Your article has put me in the mood to review Fight club soon ( :

  10. Very nice post! I think you hit it right on the button when you talk about Fincher not being scared of the Hollywood system. He can do risky stories with a solid budget because he hasn’t really had an unsuccessful movie (sub his first one). Each one of Fincher’s movies make us think. There of course is The Game and Panic Room, which are not as ambitious as the others. But he used those films to experiment and enhance his filmmaking skills. I am sure what attracted Fincher to The Game was seeing how many twists he can create in a film and what really interested Fincher about Panic Room was the idea of shooting almost all of the film in one location. The simple story for Panic Room I think was intentional because what David was interested in was technique. I think he spent about 110 days shooting that movie. Each camera movement was thought out extensively before hand and all the action in the film was brilliantly executed. He also did some incredible things with visual effects (although some were a little gimmicky). However, the story is what matters the most and that obviously is why it is considered one of his worst movies. I also think The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttion is his most under appreciated film. The movie defies most conventions of the typical “love story”. It is a tragic love story where even when they finally get together, the music and tone of the film is preparing the audience for the departure. It is a cynical love story, and Hollywood doesn’t have many of those.

    Anyway, good post, my favorite Fincher movies is The Social Network, but I can understand how most would consider Fight Club to be the best.

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