With his adaptation of the popular Gillian Flynn novel, Gone Girl, being released in theaters across America this weekend, I thought this was the perfect time to recap the works of one of my favorite filmmakers, David Fincher. To me, Fincher is one of the most consistent directors in the industry today. I thoroughly enjoy everything he’s ever done, even the films most people don’t enjoy.
As an aspiring director, Fincher directed various commercials before receiving steady work directing music videos in the 1980s and early 90s. His most famous contributions being “Straight Up” by Paula Abdul and the classic Madonna track, “Vogue”. Soon after, Fincher caught his big break and went on to direct his first feature film in 1992.
Alien 3 (1992)
Fincher’s debut film was the science-fiction vehicle, Alien 3, the third entry in the popular Alien series. Sigourney Weaver returns as Ellen Ripley, the tough astronaut who must once again overcome the vicious creatures threatening her life. After the success of the sequel, Aliens, fans had high hopes for the continuation of Ridley Scott’s horror classic.
Unfortunately for the young and inexperienced Fincher, the film was plagued with problems from the start. Fincher was brought onto the film right before filming began so he had no involvement in its pre-production as a result. The script itself had yet to be completed and was essentially being rewritten during shooting. These two aspects along with studio interference made Fincher’s first time helming a motion picture an unpleasant experience. This is the film Fincher himself would prefer you not bringing up again.
While not the worst film in the series, its reviews leaned more towards the negative side and though I’ve heard that the director’s cut is much better, I can’t confirm as I’ve never seen it. Yes sir, Fincher’s directing career didn’t start off as smoothly as he hoped.
Despite a rocky start, Fincher’s sophomore effort was much better hailed. The suspense thriller, Seven, starred Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kevin Spacey. Freeman and Pitt play two cops on the hunt for a killer who offs his victims in the stylings of the seven deadly sins. Visually, there are many uneasy moments to stomach and the viewer is confronted with what twisted notions the murderer has in store next and are locked into what clues Freeman and Pit uncover.
Spacey was not used in the marketing for the film at all in an attempt to keep his appearance as the film’s main antagonist, John Doe, a secret as this was the actor’s breakthrough year. He would go on to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for another role he shot in 1995, as the crafty Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects.
This film had a fantastic ending that can only be seen to be believed. Not to spoil anything, my friends used to tell me I did a pretty good impression of Brad Pitt during the movie’s climax exclaiming “OHHH, WHAT’S IN THE BOX?!?!?!?!”
This was the first working relationship between Fincher and Brad Pitt and it wouldn’t be the last. Seven was a critical success and became one of the highest grossing films of 1995. Studios then began to take notice of the name Fincher and it was onwards and upwards for the director.
The Game (1997)
Hoping to keep the momentum from Seven, Fincher released another thriller, The Game, two years later in 1997. Before Gerard Butler starred as a virtual hitman in Gamer, here Michael Douglas plays Nicholas, a lonely banker who is estranged from his family. As a birthday present, he receives an invitation from his brother (played by Sean Penn) to participate in a real-life, fictional action-adventure that soon turns all too real. Nicholas confronts his past and tries to rectify his relationships before thwarting off the evils that await him.
While this wasn’t Fincher’s best work, it wasn’t a bad film. It was interesting for what it was and Michael Douglas is always good to watch on the big screen and does a good job playing a desperate man fearing for his life. It drew interesting similarities to Gamer but was a lot better in pretty much every aspect so it’ll always have that going for it!
Fight Club (1999)
Now we finally get to the film everybody was waiting for me talk about, Fight Club. This adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel is probably Fincher’s most popular work. It stars Edward Norton as an unnamed, angry narrator who becomes fed up with his 9-5 office job and with the aid of soapmaker, Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), he creates an outlet for his aggressions. The two men set up a series of underground brawls pitting men with similar views on life against each other with gorey results. Durden then helps Norton’s character emotionally encourages him to perform things he’s always wanted but never had the guts to do.
The organization’s influence soon starts spreading which yields deadly consequences. The film’s twist is damn near perfect and it ties into Norton wanting to protect Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter), a girl he meets while attending one of his many support groups who supports him emotionally. Having read Fight Club, it was actually a pretty damn good adaptation.
While performing decently at the box office, the film’s popularity didn’t skyrocket until a few years later. It has since become a pop culture phenomenon due do its well written characters and commentaries. I remember seeing commercials for this film back in 1999 when it was released into theaters but heard no buzz about it and knew no one who saw it. Years later, I find out it’s everyone’s favorite film. Hey, it’s one of my favorites too so it’s not as if the praise isn’t warranted.
Also, Fight Club introduced a lot of people to the genius of the Pixies.
Panic Room (2002)
Panic Room is considered one of Fincher’s worst feature films. Even though it wasn’t very well received by the general public and critics, it’s actually one of my all time favorites thanks to suspense and superb performances by Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker, and Jared Leto. Following her divorce, a mother (Foster) and her young daughter (Kristen Stewart in her feature film debut) move into a brownstone in New York City complete with a secret room dubbed a “panic room” where they can safely hide out if they sense danger in their new home. Little do they know they’ll need to take advantage of it when three intruders attempt to break in but later realize what they’re there for is actually in that room. A deadly game of cat and mouse ensues as the criminals try everything in their power to break in while the mother and daughter do everything they can to rid their home of them.
The use of CGI in this film was excellent I thought. The scene where Foster is able to burn Leto’s character with a lighter and the blue flame ignites was pretty well done and memorable moment for me. I also loved the little touch of the close-up of the dust shaking when the burglars attempt to break into the room with a sledgehammer.
Panic Room also killed at the box office, grossing nearly $200 million on a $50M budget. There should have been a sequel, damnit!
Fincher took a hiatus after Panic Room but returned with a vengeance in 2007 to put his own spin on the real life events surrounding the infamous serial killer of San Francisco in Zodiac. Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal give terrific performances as a reporter who investigates the crime and a cartoonist who is able to figure out the killers’ coded messages. The feature was very fact driven and dialogue heavy, pointing out every possible detail in the villain’s whereabouts and motivations. It received tremendous acclaim from critics but sadly underperformed at the American box office. Even though it had decent success overseas, the film was quickly forgotten despite being one of the best that year. Don’t worry guys, Fincher was about to get the recognition he so rightfully deserves.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
Fincher finally got his due and a much deserved Academy Award nomination for Best Director for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Fincher once again brings Brad Pitt onboard to play the main character of Benjamin Button, a man who ages in reverse being born with the attributes of an elderly man and inches closer to youth after each passing year.
His extraordinary life is recalled as he attempts to reunite with his long lost love. It gave off a very Forrest Gump-like feel and was easily one of the best performances in Brad Pitt’s career. This was Fincher’s very first film in the romantic drama genre and a turning point in his career. He had gone from making critically hailed, gory cult films and thrillers to making more accessible, award winning movies.
This near-three hour epic was one of the best films of 2008 and even secured an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, losing out to Slumdog Millionaire
The Social Network (2010)
Social Networking had blown up during his first year of college in 2004-2005. Sure, you had blogs like Xanga and Livejournal and early social networking sites like Friendster but it wasn’t until Myspace and Facebook hit the internet that it grew to astronomical popularity. MySpace eventually died off leaving Facebook as not only the dominant social networking website, but one of the most popular websites on the internet, period.
After hitting a home-run with Benjamin Button, Fincher took it upon himself to create a very informative take on the creation of Facebook in The Social Network. Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg was played brilliantly by Jesse Eisenberg and it details his stay at Harvard University to the creation of his global conglomerate. We take a glimpse into his thought process into creating the site and the predicaments both personally and professional he faces. His relationships are analyzed between himself and the individuals who helped him along the way such as his best friend and business partner, Eduardo (whom he wound up burning) and Napster creator, Sean Parker.
Fincher procured his second Academy Award nomination for Best Director. The Social Network also marked the inception of Fincher’s working relationship with Nine Inch Nails singer/songwriter, Trent Reznor. Fincher director the video for the Nine Inch Nails song “Only” in 2005 so Reznor along with musician, Atticus Ross, returned the favor and scored The Social Network. They ended up winning an Academy Award for Best Score and the duo have composed music for every Fincher-directed film since.
Other than Seven, The Social Network is Fincher’s most financially successful film raking in more than five times its $40M budget.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
The popularity of Stieg Larsson’s 2005 novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo experienced a surge of popularity in the late 2000s thanks to the Swedish film based on the book that was released in 2009. The film received rave reviews and it introduced Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace to Hollywood.
Naturally, it wasn’t long after before it was retooled for American audiences. Daniel Craig plays Mikeal, a disgraced journalist who investigates the disappearance of a wealthy heiress decades ago. The film was met with mostly praise and Rooney Mara was able to nab a Best Leading Actress Oscar nomination for her role as computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander, who assists Mikael in his mission who harbors problems of her own. Fincher is hoping he will direct the sequel, The Girl Who Played With Fire.
Fincher is still owed that Best Director Oscar, America, so let’s make it happen. Go see Gone Girl this weekend and let me know how it is and how Fincher’s award chances stand!