Tag Archives: David Fincher

Ben-Affleck

Gone Girl (2014) 4.23/5 (7)

 

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Rating: The Good – 75.6
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Duration: 149 mins
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens

David Fincher and Gillian Flynn’s eagerly awaited adaptation of her own bestseller has laisser faire husband, Ben Affleck, suspected in the kidnapping and murder of his wife, Rosamund Pike, amid a media storm and public fascination with the curious young woman. If you’re familiar with the book, you’ll know what happens next but if you’re new to Flynn’s post recession world of the neo-consumer thirty-something, let’s just say that it’s not long before things take a turn for the bizarre and the plot corkscrews towards an unlikely conclusion.

As was the case with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the class that Fincher brings to the production seems a little beyond Flynn’s poolside fiction but so polished and so full of disciplined verve is Gone Girl the movie, that it’s a genuine pleasure watching it unfold. That the film offers a wry take on the symbiotic relationship between media and personal perception is an unexpected bonus and goes a long way to offset the madness of the plot. Despite this however, there are many who will feel a little let down by the resolutions offered here or lack thereof. For what it does offer, however, Gone Girl is one of the better and more intriguing thrillers of recent years propped with notable characters and fine performances. The most enigmatic is certainly Pike’s Amy Dunne, the lady at the centre of the rigmarole. Seeing her only in flashback during the first half of the movie, she narrates us through the couple’s early years exclusively via her diary entries. Lines are slowly drawn between her and hubby as she lays bare his infidelity and we duly fall in behind her. However something likeable remains of Affleck’s Nick Dunne and the story pivots on that charm.

Unsurprisingly, Pike received plenty of plaudits including an Oscar nomination. And within the flashback scenes, she’s genuinely outstanding, juggling pathos with a discernible feminine strength. However as the story winds forward, her character becomes more inaccessible and it’s fair to say her performance becomes a little mono-dimensional. If there’s a star turn here, it’s probably the much maligned Affleck who delivers it. In by far his most substantial piece of acting, he plays the disengaged, suspicious doofus with all sorts of delicacy and almost single-handedly carries the movie through its turbulent final act. That said, Carrie Coon as his twin sister and Kim Dickens as the investigating detective offer terrific support in yet another couple of uniquely strong female roles.

But for all the cast’s work, that final 40 minutes would’ve crashed and burned if it wasn’t for Fincher’s immaculate touch. Masterfully integrating Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s mechanical (albeit familiar) score with Jeff Cronenweth’s luscious photography not to mention Kirk Baxter’s spotless editing and embedding it all within Donald Graham Burt’s typically splendid production design, he serves up yet another peach of a film. You won’t see the depth of vision of The Social Network here but the depth of technical achievement is everywhere.

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Fight Club (1999) 4.14/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 84.8
Genre: Satire
Duration: 139 mins
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter

A chronic insomniac (Edward Norton) in a pit of mental despair at the predictable safety and comfort of his life finds release by attending disease support groups posing as a fellow sufferer. That is until he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), the living embodiment of anarchy. Immediately seduced into Durden’s strange world, the two men establish an underground network of fight clubs where the disenfranchised male youth of America come together to knock ten bells out of each other in a form of social mega-catharsis. However, as Durden becomes increasingly mythologised, he uses this enchanted network to form an underground army intent of bringing the consumer world to its knees.

To say that Fight Club tapped into the masculine subconscious would be an understatement. Every word Durden utters is the adult articulation of adolescent and post-adolescent angst and rebellion. Of course, the whole thing is pure satire as writer Chuck Palahnuik and director David Fincher are saying as much about the masculine mindset as they are about the consumer society that is ostensibly suppressing it. It doesn’t matter that the majority of the fans take it too literally; in fact it just goes to show you how sophisticated the satire is because their seduction mirrors that of the disenfranchised generation of the film.

On a more technical note, Fight Club is Fincher’s most innovative and stylistic film. The contrast between the clean, santised world of Norton’s office and apartment and the dank dilapidated world of Tyler Durden is almost visceral thanks to Fincher’s bold direction, some outstanding lighting and equally outstanding production design. A rich visual humour dominates the entire film and when threaded together with Palahnuik’s words it takes on a life of its own. Norton is excellent as the unnamed “narrator” while Brad Pitt has seldom been better as the enigmatic Durden. Helena Bonham Carter gives a deliciously dark turn as Edward Norton’s fellow traveller and even Meatloaf pops up in one of the more memorable roles. All said, Fight Club is a startlingly good movie built on inspired writing, direction, and acting. There isn’t one aspect to the production that lets the side down and the substantial footprint it has left on recent pop culture is testament to such quality.

The Social Network (2010) 3.43/5 (5)

 

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Rating: The Good – 92.9
Genre: Drama
Duration: 120 mins
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake

“Creation myths need a devil.” The Social Network was hyped by some as one of the best films of all time on its release and actually, they just might have been right with this one. A master class in pacing and screenwriting, this story about the founding of Facebook and the man behind its creation is one of the most compelling films of the modern era. It may take dramatic license as it reconstructs the details of the personal and legal battles that followed the launch of the website but the result is as focused an examination of the digital generation as we’ve seen thus far.

Deeply sophisticated parallels are forensically drawn through the centre of this story as director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin intertwine Mark Zuckerberg’s rise to prominence with the traditional concept of social popularity while reflecting on the dynamic the latter shares with the new order. Characters and plot are richly conceived as the drama unfolds in Shakespearean proportions and by the time it’s all done, we feel we’ve been let in on something really special. Everyone involved acts their socks off but this film is built around the ever excellent Jesse Eisenberg’s sensational performance as Zuckerberg. It’s an intricate piece of work because much of the character’s thoughts and emotions occur very internally and are therefore left to the audience to infer. But thanks to an abundance of carefully orchestrated and delightfully timed micro-expressions, we do.

For a film which was largely built around an emotionally reserved protagonist, the score was always going to be important and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross respond to the challenge in resolute fashion with what could arguably be referred to as one of the best scores of the decade. Their subtly balanced electro-rock compositions are perfectly weighted to the different segments of the film and wonderfully carry the audience through the complex social worlds the characters inhabit. As they do in the script, the parallels present in the different compositions help to tie them together into one overarching score that feels as comprehensively part of the film as the cinematography or production design (which by the way were also just about the best we’ve seen in the last decade).

However, the final words of praise should be saved for Sorkin and in particular Fincher who craft this complex, multi-tiered tale into an astute study of the struggle for acceptance in the modern world. In the streamlined focus of the latter’s direction, the former’s writing found its perfect outlet as Sorkin’s potentially wearing indulgences are shorn away in favour of properly individuated character conceptions. Fincher doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to edit scripts but one look at the “behinds the scenes” footage of his writing meetings with Sorkin quickly reveals how he steered Sorkin’s lush script away from the pretentious self-glorification of something like The Newsroom.

But it’s Fincher’s overall command of the project that makes The Social Network such a magnificent experience. A low hum of anticipation builds through the picture, particularly during the early scenes, giving the audience a genuine feel for the magnitude of the project Zuckerberg was embarking on. It’s an implicit but irresistible feeling engineered through structure and Fincher’s impeccable understanding of how much distance to keep between his actors and the camera at all times. In those moments of revelation and/or accomplishment when this sensation actualises, we are witnessing the consolidation of truly mesmerising direction. The ultimate example being the arresting sequence in which Fincher parallels Zuckerberg’s facemash assault with the Phoenix Club’s first party of the fall semester in their mutual misogynistic glory. As a scene of pure drama, it is a peerless piece of impossibly sleek film-making and damn near the best sequence in modern cinema.

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Seven (1995) 4/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 74.2
Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller
Duration: 127 mins
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey

Not the crime masterpiece some would have you believe but David Fincher’s dark thriller about two homicide detectives searching for a killer who’s crimes reflect the seven deadly sins is nonetheless a strong effort that still packs a punch. The drawback, however, is that the film has too strong a sense of itself which at all times seems to drive the narrative instead of the other way around. As such, it often veers into cliche and melodrama concerning the hopelessness of humanity etc, etc. Thankfully, the integrity of the performances and the graininess of Fincher’s direction does help to attenuate this problem, somewhat. Fincher was still in his angsty punk-cinema phase so we have lots of edgy direction and gritty force but we also have signs of the more mature and disciplined director he was to become as he frames and paces his story immaculately. Brad Pitt is interesting and enjoyable as the cocky young detective while Morgan Freeman is excellent as the more seasoned and disillusioned detective. It’s not always easy to watch due to scenes of graphic and implied gore but it’s worth doing so if only for the dramatic close this film comes to.

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Alien 3 (1992) 3.07/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 75.5
Genre: Science Fiction
Duration: 114 mins
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Charles Dance, Lance Henriksen

Picking up where Aliens left off, the concluding part of the original trilogy, sees Ripley crash landing on a maximum security prison planet among murderers and rapists and yet another alien that has stowed away in her shuttle. An initially unsettling presence to the entirely male population “who have found God at the ass end of space”, she inevitably helps to organise the weaponless rabble against the alien.

Though never courting the same level of adoration as Scott’s Alien or Cameron’s Aliens, David Fincher’s film has a lot to recommend. There’s a coherent and focused story set within a context that gives the film a modest philosophical angle. Furthermore, stylistically speaking, it has a very strong sense of itself and no little amount of directorial class. The bridge between Aliens and this film is deftly constructed as credits are interrupted with snippets of the Sulaco’s ill fated return journey and of its face-hugging intruder. That style is stretched out more subtly throughout the remainder of the film reasserting itself fully only twice more. Once when Fincher and co. parallel the burial of Hicks and Newt with the birth of the mature alien (the “chest burster”) and again in the final scene. It’s this style that allows Fincher to crash the two ostensibly duelling themes of Alien 3 together, that of spiritualism and nihilism, while ultimately turning the entire film into a tome for a type of nihilistic spiritualism. It’s a clever conceit and one that is really quite effectively drawn out despite the director’s exit from the project before completion of post production.

Fincher’s withdrawal and his subsequent disowning of the movie was only one of several issues to arise during the production and the conveyor belt of script writers and treatments which ran through the project can be most clearly felt in how peripheral the actual alien becomes to the whole thing. There’s certainly an attempt to have the alien and Ripley define each other but the former pops up in such an understated manner that it inevitably drifts into the background. This leads us to the real problem with Alien 3, namely, that it never quite feels like it belongs to the same universe of the first two instalments. In addition to the alien playing second fiddle to Ripley, the production design, though rich and impressive, is exceptionally dreary and after a while, as the pessimism of the story bleeds through, it all begins to wear heavily. Moreover, whereas the first two films were strongly technological in their visual conception, the story here demands a technologically spare approach. All this makes Alien 3 the least visually interesting of the original trilogy and rather out on its own.

Of course, it could be argued that this distinction gives it a powerfully dark edge over the original films and the sinister manner in which “the company” is depicted in the final twenty minutes does support that. Nonetheless, there is one department where Alien 3 undeniably falls far short of its predecessors. The aforementioned disharmony in the last stages of post production ensured that the creature effects are inconsistent and often excruciatingly bad. Moreover, Alien 3 is a far less exciting movie as the action is restricted to the final act and with the restrictions in the story, it plays out in a comparatively flat manner when placed alongside Aliens and even Alien. That said, in the same way that Alien and Aliens were separable by genre (sci-fi horror vs action sci-fi respectively), Alien 3 can be simply understood to be maintaining that tradition by setting its stall out as a sci-fi drama. It certainly allows for greater exploration of the dramatic subplots and we see a new dimension to the well established character of Ripley as she and Charles Dance’s medical officer develop a brief but intriguing romantic partnership.

Dance is outstanding but this movie more so than any of the other movies in the franchise (four at this point not counting the recent Prometheus) is all about Sigourney Weaver. She hand picked writer David Giler and insisted Walter Hill be brought back on board to properly tease out Ripley’s potential and though the script was ultimately worked on by a troop of other writers, much of their contributions to her story were maintained. Weaver responded with a wonderful turn and one that is strong enough to shoulder the entire film. Ironic as it may appear, given she’s the only female cast member, that strength combined with some overarching themes of motherhood give the film a very feminine vibe. Fans of traditional horror won’t be too disappointed though because this, after all, is a David Fincher film and consequently there’s plenty of squirming scenes.

Overall, Alien 3 is a laudable effort to bring yet another layer to the franchise and indeed overcome the production issues which beset it from early on. It’ll always divide opinion among fans of that franchise and it’s the most independent in style but that just adds to its intrigue.

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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011) 3.47/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 78.9
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Duration: 158 mins
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer

With Zodiac and particularly The Social Network, David Fincher was proving that he was maturing beyond the edgy young talent who created Fight Club and Seven to a genuinely masterful and commanding director. Thus, when news broke that he was going to remake Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo only two years after the Swedish adaptation, one could be forgiven for assuming he had a dramatic reinterpretation in mind. After all, the book was hardly literary perfection and the Swedish film had already and very recently presented a faithful adaptation. Add to that Fincher’s own claim that this movie would be his “Chinatown” and there was reason to be very excited indeed. Of course, Fincher was never a writer but he certainly imposes his style on the structuring of his films and he’s demonstrated on numerous occasions that he should have the sensibilities to spot the weaker elements to the Larsson story.

Surprisingly, Fincher and writer Steven Zaillian had no such reinterpretation in mind but as it turns out, that’s not what this story needed. What it needed was a sophisticated story teller who could plum the rich depths which the book only ever really pointed towards. And that’s exactly what Fincher did. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an ultra slick and cinematically luscious version of the original adaptation which embraces the more idiosyncratic nature of the original story but gives it a steely focus. Like the book and the original adaptation, the three main plots (Lisbeth Salander’s ordeal with her new guardian; Blomkvist’s search for Harriet Vagner’s killer; and his quest to prove his innocence in the liable case) are all present and run in parallel to each other linked through the same overt manoeuvres used by the book. We have the same ‘false’ final act (including the bizarre shift in gears towards popcorn serial killer movie mode) followed by the actual final act where the most interesting plot conclusion is wrapped up in a mere 15 minutes. Given the sprawling and eccentric nature of the story, one might wonder how Fincher turned this into the focused and immersive experience it is. The answer lies in the force of Fincher’s vision and the meticulous craftsmanship which it stimulated from every corner of the film-making process.

From Fincher’s perceptive framing and composition to Rooney Mara’s electric portrayal of the disturbed young woman at the centre of the story, this film is immaculate in its execution. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ scene-bridging score is softly energetic and combined with Kirk Baxter’s and Angus Wall’s editing, it commendably ties the various and not always complementary subplots together so that Fincher’s steady, unerring, and magnetic momentum is maintained. Under the auspices of Fincher’s commanding direction, Jeff Cronenweth’s polished cinematography and Donald Graham Burt’s rich yet stark production design lure us into Larsson’s depraved world of corporate corruption, rape, and serial murderers to the point that we don’t mind being there –  a rare achievement. The acting is first class throughout with Daniel Craig’s Blomkvist being a fine counterpoint to Mara’s lethally focused Salander while Zaillian’s screenplay seems to add layers of intrigue to every last one of the characters. Combined, these forces seem to imbue the film with a richness and substance that bootstraps the story onto another plane.

For all its focus, there are some peculiarities which require addressing. In this day and age, when audiences are used to reading subtitles even on television shows (many of them Scandinavian), the decision to set and partially shoot this film in Sweden but have American, English, Canadian, and even Swedish actors all speaking English in Swedish-ish accents is a little perplexing. Some might argue that the use of English and consequent lack of subtitles is a plus but, from an intellectual point of view, that’s difficult to defend. The question must be asked therefore, if the film must be shot in English, could it not have been set in northern Canada where a similar geographical and meteorological atmosphere to the book could be maintained? After all, the themes addressed here are universal and not distinctly Swedish.

In the final analysis, Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is an eminently slick thriller and a marvelous piece of entertainment. It’s easily one of the better thrillers of 2011 and may even be one of the better thrillers in recent decades. More importantly, however, it is a testament to the power of a great director working over a talented cast and crew.

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Zodiac (2007) 4.71/5 (4)

 

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Rating: The Good – 80
Genre: Crime, Mystery
Duration: 157 mins
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo

David Fincher’s inspired account of the Zodiac murders which haunted San Francisco in the 1970′s focuses on the various personalities who got caught up in the story from the reporters who covered it to the police who investigated it. The acting is uniformly excellent and with a cast full of top acting talent that shouldn’t be a surprise. Robert Downey Jr. is outstanding as Paul Avery, the journalist who initially makes most waves in the case, and the character (as it is written here) was perfect for Downey’s cheeky persona (a persona which has been perhaps over-ploughed at this point in his career). Mark Ruffalo’s turn as Inspector Toschi is without doubt the most complete and charismatic performance and he owns the camera when it’s on him. As the cartoonist who eventually broke the case (in many people’s eyes), Jake Gyllenhall has the most screen time but since his character Robert Graysmith, has by far the tamest personality, he had a lot to do to make up for the more fertile material Ruffalo and in particular Downey Jr. had. James Vanderbilt’s script is masterfully structured with a level of character construction rarely seen. It imbues each of the characters with layers of interesting quirks and traits and thus allows each of them to be interesting in their own unique way. Some screenplays can be seen to invigorate its cast and Zodiac is a case in point.

However, the standout performer here is the director. Shot in the patient style of the great 70′s films, Zodiac was a signal to the world that Fincher was maturing beyond the innovative experimenter, a trait which all great young directors share, and into someone who realises that often less is more. Seven and Fight Club have such strong cult followings (and rightly so) that many will always see this film as somewhat inferior to those but in many ways Zodiac is the more complete work. It’s one of the most impressively paced films in recent memory to the extent that the two and half hours zip by. Moreover, its intelligent structure ensures that the audience is kept up to speed with the intricate story throughout. On top of all that, Fincher brings one of the definitive 70′s composers David Shire on board to further engender the movie with that decade’s feel. However Zodiac’s greatest success lies in how Fincher captured the sense of paranoia and mystery that dominated the real life case. In this film, even the most ordinary of occurrences or interchanges develop the capacity to intensely frighten as the experience of not knowing who the killer is becomes a palpable intrusion on the concerns of the audience. This was the final masterstroke in a perfect performance by the great Fincher.

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Panic Room (2002) 3.75/5 (4)

 

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Rating: The Good – 68.2
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 112 mins
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker

This dark and moody thriller sees mother and daughter (Jodie Foster & Kristin Stewart respectively) engaging in a battle of wits with three home invaders from the dubious safety of their panic room. As he demonstrated in Seven, Fincher is a master of atmosphere and suspense and he hones that talent to a fine point here as the relentless tension keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. Panic Room is nowhere near Fincher’s best work but it’s certainly one of the better examples of the modern thriller where the story or the characters inhabiting it typically play second fiddle to the concept driving (selling) it.

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