Director Series: David Fincher

David Fincher is a director who has had unmatched and continual success over the last fifteen years in Hollywood. Best known for his dark and stylish thriller movies, you’ve probably seen, loved or even recommended more than one of his films.

His directorial debut was Alien³ in 1992. An unnecessary follow up to two superb Alien movies, Fincher struggled with management and budget, and ultimately lost creative control of the film. It was a tough introduction to the feature film business, but the director’s dark and stylish tone was a perfect fit for this science-fiction universe and if allowed more freedom and a better script, I believe the third Alien outing could have rivaled the previous two and would have marked a extraordinary Hollywood debut for the director. The movie tries to recreate the tension of the first movie of the series, but the slow pace is only rewarded in a few scenes, and the entire movie could have been edited down considerably. The over the top British characterisation in the story felt comedic and out of place, and aside from the strong female character, Ripley - who was established in the previous movies - none of the characters were interesting or like-able - even the dialogue is cringe-worthy. However, these problems are more due to the screenplay than poor direction. Finally, the use of CGI for the xenomorph was a bad choice, although Fincher likes to push the boundaries of technology, the man-in-suit approach, as seen in the previous incarnations would have worked much better as the computer rendering capabilities weren't quite good enough at the time and the plastic feel to the creature broke the suspension of disbelief.

He followed in 1995 up by directing Se7en (1995), a well-written and extremely dark detective thriller starring Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kevin Spacey. Set around two detectives tracking down a killer with an MO inspired by the seven deadly sins, its explosive ending is one of the most talked about in cinematic history. It’s clear that Fincher’s experience with Alien³ didn’t deter him from taking on big budget films and their associated pressures having successfully fought to keep the movie's shocking conclusion.

The Game (1997) saw Fincher direct Michael Douglas as a man losing control as he takes part in a real-world game. The Game is a tense, intricately shot thriller which entertains as lead character's sense of paranoia is driven to the very edge. Unfortunately this is the directors most underrated film – mainly as it was bookended by two cult movie masterpieces – yet it still demands your attention.

Fight Club (1999) is a mind-bending, drug-filled film that everyone who has an opinion about. You follow a nobody, who, after a coincidental meeting with a larger than life character, has his life is turned upside down. Featuring an all-star cast including Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and Helena Bonham Carter, the twisting masochistic story and unflinching raw cinematography ensured it earned a cult following.

Panic Room (2002) is a much simpler, straight-forward plot compared with Fincher’s other work. Set within the confines of a town house, the story follows a woman and her daughter as they hide from robbers. A few stand-out long takes that use CGI to make them seamless, demonstrate Fincher's willingness to incorporate such techniques in his movies – although always used with restraint. To find out more, read my more in-depth review.

Based on the true story, Zodiac (2007), follows a reporter who becomes obsessed with a serial killer terrorising the neighbourhoods of San Francisco during the 1960s and 70s. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey, Jr., this digitally shot movie was lauded as one of the best movies of the year. Incredibly well shot, the movie focuses on the addiction of a reporter who is becomes obsessed with the killer, who taunted police and sent out ciphers to newspapers. The movie doesn’t quite have the same punch and action as the directors previous efforts, but the screenplay, quality of acting and level of detail shine through in this beautifully and meticulously crafted film. The level of CGI employed though-out the movie is absolutely breath-taking, especially considering you never suspect its use, let alone the quantity. Unfortunately, although the movie rightfully garnered highly positive reviews it was hardly a success at the box-office.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) was a heavily marketed fantasy tale featuring Brad Pitt as the titular character who has the curious affliction of ageing backwards. Covering the character’s entire life, the movie clocks in at over two hours 45 minutes, yet would have benefited from being cut by half an hour. Nominated for thirteen Academy Awards, winning three (best visual effects, makeup and art direction) the movie was well received by critics and public alike, but doesn’t quite have the same impact as his previous endeavours.

The Social Network (2010) a dramatisation about the creation of the social-networking website, Facebook. When this was announced many moviegoers were skeptical about the topic, but once Fincher’s name was attached, I put faith in the director to produce another stunning movie. According to reviews from critics and the general public he has done just that — I agree. Many people are unfamiliar with the origins of Facebook and the people involved – I didn’t realise that Sean Parker, the co-founder of file-sharing service Napster, was involved – but this is more about the culture of the Internet generation than Facebook itself. The story and dialogue are the movies strongest points with Aaron Sorkin's screenplay coming in at 166 pages. This would normally translate to a movie approximately 2 hours 30 minutes in length, but Fincher was contractually obliged to cut the film’s running time to two hours. He succeeded by making the actors speak the dialogue faster, something which is noticeable in the opening scene when we’re first introduced to Zuckerberg’s fast and witty responses. Once again he employs creative use of CGI, using a computer-generated face in some scenes to bring the identical twins to screen, although you would never notice. The movie is fast paced, entertains as well as documents and defines a generation.

His next project is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first novel in the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson. This is a series which will suit his dark thriller style extremely well, but has not announced whether he has signed on to direct all three movies. If the title sounds familiar you may have already heard of, or even seen, the original Swedish versions of all three movies which were released in 2009 and have been making their way to UK screens this year. It seems an odd choice to remake these movies so soon, especially with a high-profile director, but it will definitely give the stories a much larger audience, and the material is in safe hands.

Every movie that David Fincher directs has an incredible quality with cinematography always deemed the best of any movie released in the same year. Every thing within the universes Fincher creates is meticulously researched and the level of detail is extraordinary, the only downside is that this usually means the finished product is usually overly long. Not only does he manage to get great performances from his actors and actresses, his use of technology is particularly impressive in that it's never revealed to the viewer. David Fincher is definitely one of the best living directors working in Hollywood today.

Further Reading

This part of a series looking at movie directors.