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The Films Of David Fincher: A Retrospective

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist October 1, 2010 at 7:02AM

In general, when we pen a retrospective on a director's oeuvre , we try and save them for when a filmmaker is deep into his career and has a least 15-plus films under his belt. But we're making an exception here for David Fincher, who is obviously considered to be one of the most estimable modern auteurs working today, in the league of Christopher Nolan, if not higher and generally seems to be destined to have a career that will be looked back on with great admiration and panegyrics if it isn't already.
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Fight Club

In general, when we pen a retrospective on a director's oeuvre , we try and save them for when a filmmaker is deep into his career and has a least 15-plus films under his belt. But we're making an exception here for David Fincher, who is obviously considered to be one of the most estimable modern auteurs working today, in the league of Christopher Nolan, if not higher and generally seems to be destined to have a career that will be looked back on with great admiration and panegyrics if it isn't already.

Known for his impeccably stylish, technically meticulous and resoundingly tenebrous films that tend to gravitate towards anti-heroes, flawed protagonists and forsaken souls, Fincher's films are always intensely dark, hyper-detailed, always challenging and never really fit for mass consumption. Yet, with each of his films arriving via a major studio, Fincher's oeuvre does resonate with a strong contingent of mainstream audiences and "The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button" — his most accessible film — earned him the attention of the Academy that ignored his less embraceable, but much better, previous efforts.

The modern horror of his serial killer film " Se7en" placed him firmly on the map, the anarchic "Fight Club" became a cult-classic basically the day it was released in theaters and the filmmaker has been highly in demand ever since. With "The Social Network" logging into theaters — and having already looked at 5 of his films (and more) that have yet to to the screen — we take a look back on an already impressive body of work that is only growing in stature with each new addition.

The Game” (1997)
“The Game,” the

Twilight Zone”-y thriller about a wealthy businessman (Michael Douglas) who is engaged in an elaborate, possibly nefarious role playing game by his delinquent brother (Sean Penn), is probably David Fincher’s coolest cool-for-coolness-sake pop outing, but also his most hollow. No matter how deeply Fincher wants to connect the material (written by the geniuses that gave us “Terminator 3”) to resonate themes of loss, regret and legacy (since Douglas’ game begins on the anniversary of his father’s suicide), the movie is too slick and polished to be anything more than it is. Thankfully, what it is is a really fun rollercoaster ride, one with plenty of twists and turns and some extremely weird flourishes (like the fact that a large section of the film’s last act takes place in Mexico), anchored by two fine performances by Douglas and Penn (in a role written for Jodie Foster, hence his name - “Connie”). The film is a trifle for sure, with Fincher working comfortably within the flashy boundaries of his music video days and possibly stifled by the resounding critical and commercial approval of “ Se7en,” but it’s hard to fault a movie in which Spike Jonze shows up in the last scene as a concerned EMT technician, because that’s just funny. [C+]

Zodiac” (2007)
Though he was coming off the box-office success of “Panic Room,” David Fincher’s knack for ambitious material didn’t necessarily make him a studio favorite and so it’s no surprise his next effort, a talky, two and a half hour procedural had Paramount scratching their head. Released to a box-office death in the spring of 2007, the film confounded Fincher-heads who expected the serial killer plotline to bring back the flashy, fleshy pleasures of “Se7en” and while it was praised by critics and landed on numerous top 10 lists, by awards season it was unjustly forgotten. While on the surface, an exhaustive retelling of the search for the famed Zodiac killer, the script by James Vanderbilt slowly spins a tale about the toll and cost of obsession as Robert Graysmith’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) fascination with the case turns into a decades-long hunt that never comes to a satisfactory end. A film that is entirely about the journey and not the destination, “Fight Club” fanboys dismissed the film and also failed to notice Fincher’s jaw dropping technical work on the film. Shot digitally, Fincher utilized a staggering number of digital effects to seamlessly and accurately recreate the 1970s San Francisco skyline and neighborhoods with this own obsession going right down to recreating facsimile newspaper in the San Francisco Chronicle offices that had accurate headlines and articles for the era though they were never on camera. It’s no wonder Fincher related to the material. But the technical wonders would be empty if the film wasn’t so fascinating. Vanderbilt does a wonder job of transferring Graysmith’s obsession to the audience, leading down numerous theories, pathways and puzzles that are both compelling and thrilling. Featuring a wonderful, pre-"Iron Man" turn by Robert Downey Jr. as Graysmith’s smoking, drinking, quipping newsroom colleague Paul Avery and solid turns by Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards as cops tasked to the case, “Zodiac” quietly demonstrates that the terror caused by random and senseless acts of violence can resonate for years. [A]

Panic Room” (2002)
It's probably not surprising that David Fincher’s biggest hit since “Se7en” came with his least cerebral, most straightforward effort, the slick b-movie "Panic Room." It should be noted that the film faced a major stumbling block when original star Nicole Kidman stepped aside a knee injury attained during the filming of “Moulin Rouge” sidelined her (though you can see some early footage with Kidman on the ridiculously stacked triple disc DVD edition of the film). Luckily, Jodie Foster came in (pregnant too, no less) to save the day and she was probably a better choice for the desperate, tough as nails mother who has to protect herself and her daughter when home invaders crash the posh Upper West Side home they've just purchased. If the single-setting film is pure Hitchcock, then so is the Macguffin; an enveloper containing valuable bearer bonds that are really of no consequence and just there to drive the plot. Again displaying his digital virtuosity, Fincher sets up some bravura set pieces (particularly the single-shot, triple-level break-and-enter sequence early in the film) and some clever approaches that open up the static environment. The film relies strongly on its performances and Fincher gets them from Foster and particularly Dwight Yoakam as the delightfully deranged Raoul. Forest Whitaker is solid as the baddie with a heart but less convincing is Jared Leto as the cocky mastermind who does a bad Brad Pitt impression for most of the film. But if the mechanics are on the place, the heart isn't. While the nods to “Rear Window” and “The Killing” are nice, the closing shot of the film finds the sympathy somewhat misplaced and the film’s relentless movement doesn't always keep the steam it works so hard to build up. [B-]

This article is related to: David Fincher, Retrospective, Features, Feature


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