When you write about films you try very hard to give a film a chance based upon its own merits and not those of the filmmaker’s previous films or what you thought of those films. Personally I can say that I have given David Fincher more than a fair chance. Having viewed a number of his films, some even multiple times, I can safely say with certainly that after viewing his most recent film, Gone Girl (2014), I have officially given up on Mr. Fincher.
David Fincher is one of those filmmakers whose style has become a commodity unto itself; often imitated, more often admired, and tremendously marketable. Like Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and Ridley Scott before him, Fincher’s signature aesthetic has transcended style, evolving into a signifier of sorts in its own right. His astute attention to detail and visual texture has been rightly praised, but his films in their entirety, with the sum of all of their parts and attributes accounted for, remain void of any unique or personal cinematic expression.
Gone Girl, much more than The Social Network (2010), conforms to a genre without offering any new revelations about the sociological issues it supposes. Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction (1987) provides a clear-cut blueprint for the narrative arc of the film as well as the basic positions of power inhabited by the films characters. Interestingly, the recasting of the female as the cold-blooded and violent possessor of men is a distinctly male reaction to feminism, inverting the sexual politics of films like Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964). Neither rendering of the sexual politics at work in a heteronormative relationship escape the chauvinism of the films author.
Hitchcock is often compared to or cited as an influence on Fincher. Clearly The Game (1997), Gone Girl, Panic Room (2002) and Seven (1995) speak to the extent to which Fincher follows in the steps of his legendary predecessor. But Fincher’s cinematic heritage does not end with Hitchcock. Stephen Frears is another obvious influence on Fincher, and, like Fincher, Frears’ projects are not his own, often based on books, and representative of a variety of narrative approaches. But where Frears immerses himself in a number of different genres with an ironic sense of self-consciousness Fincher prefers to revisit the same genre over and over again, going so far as to project the tropes of that genre onto narratives where it seems oddly out-of-place (Social Network).
The other dividing factor between Frears and Fincher is Frears’ uncanny ability to select projects possessing an immediate potency, rendering them relevant in their moment as well as documents of a moment that once was, particularly with My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), The Grifters (1990), and Dirty Pretty Things (2002). Fincher’s attempts to be relatable in this way never surpass a superficial level. If one examines Fight Club (1999), which is perhaps his most popular film with audiences, one is struck that it’s two primary concerns are with violence for the sake of violence among the upper middle class and the duality of man’s personality. Alan Clarke’s film The Firm (1989) presents the first of Fight Club‘s two concerns as its singular thesis. With Clarke’s harrowing approach to realism, The Firm examines how a group of well-to-do men spend their time in violent confrontation with other teams of “soccer hooligans” as they’re dubbed. Clarke’s approach negates the facelessness of the combatants in Fight Club, endowing his film with the kind of social critique that is as confrontational as it is inescapable in its realism. As for Fight Club‘s duality, Bernardo Bertolucci’s Partner (1968) represents an uncomfortably similar visual rendering. But where Fight Club employs this duality to comment on the primal nature of civilized man, lurking just under the surface, Bertolucci sees his split personality protagonist as a metaphor for the political divisions in Italy’s youth movement of the late sixties.
Of all the films David Fincher has made, Zodiac (2007) remains the standout. Visually speaking it is Fincher’s most mature effort, featuring some outstanding work by Harris Savides. With regards to narrative, Zodiac is unique in that it defies, by virtue of its subject, the thriller genre. There is no clear resolution of any kind to the film, proposing instead that violence and moral corruption are inescapable by-products of American society.
However, Zodiac is not a great film. It meanders much in the same way that The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011) does, without a clear sense of purpose to many of the films characters. All of Fincher’s films could fit that assessment. As a director, Fincher has never truly gotten an outstanding performance from any of his casts. That, combined with the arguments preceding, account for my decision to give up on one of the most popular filmmakers working in America today.