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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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The Social Network” (2010)
The defining film of a generation? Not quite. But don’t get us wrong, there is much to love about David Fincher’s tale about the founding of Facebook. Largely ditching the camera trickery of his previous efforts, “The Social Network” finds Fincher’s focus squarely on the dialogue-heavy text of Aaron Sorkin’s rapid-fire script, and he delivers a thrilling, always-moving narrative that whips through 160 plus pages of screenplay in two hours that feels more like 90 minutes. His ensemble of young talent step up to plate with Jesse Eisenberg delivering a career best performance and Armie Hammer stealing every scene he’s in as the privileged Winkelvoss twins. But even though the story is complex and riveting, the characters aren't always as rich. With key relationships underdeveloped and thinly drawn —
between Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg) his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and his ex-girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) — the film lacks the emotional resonance it strives for in the latter half of the film. And structurally, the film is more or less the best episode of “Law & Order” you’ll ever see in your life. But, lucky for us, the film was guided by the immaculately-composed hand of Fincher. It's almost like an in-the-moment "All The President's Men" surging forward in real time, and propelled by a wonderfully minimal and minor key score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, “The Social Network” is grand, populist entertainment at its best. [A-]

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button” (2008)
Fincher’s seventh feature-length effort is his beautiful folly: a sprawling epic about a man who ages backwards (Brad Pitt), set against the backdrop of an ever-changing America and formed from the relative noodle of a F. Scott Fitzgerald story that never quite finds its emotional footing. The film is peppered with some unbelievable moments (like the opening clock tower story/backwards war sequence) and delicately calibrated performances (particularly from Cate Blanchett), but Fincher seems more interested in the technology of aging (and then de-aging) a wonderfully detached Pitt than anything else (that technology is, admittedly, impressive and quite cutting edge). Additionally, Eric Roth’s script falters (if Benjamin narrates, how, exactly, does he know the unconnected aspects that surrounded Blanchett’s accident in that really wonderful sequence?) as often as it connects (Benjamin’s extended affair with Tilda Swinton), leaving the entire enterprise to feel off kilter and wobbly, full of amazing highs and crater-ish lulls. Maybe the film is best read as a time travel story, with Benjamin Button a displaced journeyman forced to watch the world change while he remains untouched. It would certainly explain why Benjamin, and Fincher himself, keep such a distance from the emotional core of the story, and place emphasis where Fincher thought it belonged: on technology, not people. [C+]

Se7en” (1995)
Perhaps Fincher's still most fully-realized and haunting picture, "Se7en," is an unforgettable modern crime classic and a landmark film that essentially made the careers of Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow and the filmmaker (Pitt's first leading role was only the year before in "Legends of the Fall"). Grisly, dark and dank, the mood and aesthetics of this seminal serial killer film are second to none and the entire film carries the weight of a rotten, festering wound that's about to burst. Unless you're somehow unaware, the film centers on two detectives, a disillusioned old-timer counting down the days of his upcoming retirement (Morgan Freeman) and the naive, aggressive newbie trying to make his mark (Brad Pitt), in their search to stop a psychotic serial killer (Kevin Spacey) who is picking off his victims using the seven deadly sins as a guide. The dichotomy of the cops' two trajectories in life is just one simple rich texture in what is a layered tapestry of various unsettling psychological elements. And while this might sound like standard Hollywood fare, Fincher largely bypasses the buddy-cop and action cliches to deliver a twisted and disturbing thriller that irrevocably scars both the audience and its character in its unbelievable, jaw-dropping conclusion (one, that Brad Pitt had to fight for, threatening the studio he'd bail on doing publicity for the film if Fincher's cut wasn't kept intact). Fincher's been accused several times of his coldness and his aloofness, but here that distance allows his dour message about humanity's inhumanity and depravity to land with shocking, arresting and enduring impact. "Se7en" is ultimately about the corrosion of morality and the decay of the human soul across society and Fincher has never been so comfortable than within this condemning milieu. The term "What's in the box?" will never be the same for many. [A]

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


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