Due to the recent cinema release of Gone Girl, the first of these Top 5 features is dedicated to the director David Fincher. The acclaimed movie-maker began work as a director in the mid-80’s working on a documentary and several music videos. He got his big break in 1992 with Alien 3, however this film was marked with production troubles. It wasn’t until 1995, following some more music video releases, that Fincher directed Seven, his first critically-acclaimed film. Here I lay out the best Fincher films to date, not an easy task considering the multitude of hits within his career so far.
- Seven (1995)
Seven saw Brad Pitt star as Mills, a young hot-shot detective partnered with Somerset, an older detective nearing retirement, played by Morgan Freeman. Although this set-up was somewhat clichéd, the subsequent cat and mouse chase to catch a serial killer who used the seven deadly sins as his modus operandi was a taut thriller with some brilliant twists. If Alien 3 suggested Fincher’s flair for dark stories, then Seven firmly established it; this was a uniquely (at least until Fincher’s later serial killer films) moody feature that created some very memorable crime scenes for the protagonists to investigate. This coupled with, without spoilers, the incredible and now famous ending (yet one I will not spoil here for those yet to see Seven) has propelled this detective story to a classic status within the thriller genre.
- Gone Girl (2014)
Gone Girl is Fincher’s latest feature, and is the adaptation of the literary phenomenon by author Gillian Flynn, who also wrote the screenplay for the film, creating a faithful adaptation that only changes minor parts to make sense in the film’s narrative.
Ben Affleck continues his recent outstanding form as Nick Dunne, a regular Joe whose world is turned upside down following the disappearance of his beautiful wife, Amy. The film changes between two different perspectives, that of Nick in the present dealing with the media, as he finds the attention of the murder investigation switching to him and Amy in the past, via flashbacks, to reveal the background of their relationship. To go any further would be to ruin the intrigue of this engrossing yet at times unsettling thriller, as the plot shifts through many twists and turns in the course of the manhunt for Amy Dunne. Gone Girl stands out as one of the most interesting Fincher films, as through its dual-perspective it is not only a murder-mystery but a unique insight into the minds of the two lead characters, drawing you further into its world.
- Zodiac (2007)
Criminally overlooked at the Oscars back in 2007, Zodiac had a documentary-esque tone, whilst still maintaining its fast-paced narrative. The film’s story opened on July 4th, 1969 in Vallejo, California, showing an attack on two teenagers and charted the investigation into the Zodiac, the famous real-life case of the serial killer who claimed to have killed thirty-seven people (five of which were confirmed) in America across the 60’s and 70’s.
One month after the attack in Vallejo, three separate ciphers were sent to three newspapers, each with a letter demanding the ciphers be printed as front page news or more murders would be committed. The film followed a cartoonist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a reporter (Robert Downey Jr.) who worked at the San Francisco Chronicle. They masterfully portrayed a descent into obsession over finding the Zodiac, while working with the detective (Mark Ruffalo) and his partner (Anthony Edwards) who were assigned to the case.
The misty night-time shots and haunting score that accompanied much of the film provided a distinctly unsettling atmosphere, made all the more chilling with the knowledge that the film is based on real-life events.
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Three years before Gone Girl, Fincher forayed into adapting from a literary phenomenon for the first time, in this case, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first book of the bestselling Swedish Millennium trilogy.
The film followed Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), who, after losing a libel case against a media tycoon, agrees to step back from his magazine, Millennium, for a period of time and accepts an invitation from Henrik Vanger, a retired industrialist, to investigate the disappearance of a teenage girl, Harriet Vanger, 40 years before. His investigation crosses his path with that of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), the titular character, who was hired by Henrik Vanger to investigate and vet Blomkvist, before she joins forces with Blomkvist to help the search for answers about Harriet’s disappearance.
The cinematography stands out as some of the best in Fincher’s filmography. The frozen landscapes of rural Sweden perfectly capture what it would be like to live isolated in the cold environment, and lends further character to a brilliantly acted and directed film that stands proudly alongside the Swedish original as a unique adaptation rather than a remake.
- The Social Network (2010)
A lighter film than most of his previous works, The Social Network is quite possibly David Fincher’s best film. When first announced, those who weren’t aware of the team behind the film scoffed at it, denouncing a movie about Facebook as something that would and could never be interesting. But, for those familiar with Fincher’s previous works, and with the knowledge that he would be directing from a script penned by Aaron Sorkin (of The West Wing and, more recently, The Newsroom fame), expectations were high. And the film certainly delivered. Firing along at a rapid pace, it focused on a small group of students at Harvard University in 2003, who, led by Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg on top form), invented Facebook. Zuckerberg was subsequently involved in two lawsuits, and the film moved between the creation of Facebook and both lawsuits to give an account of the troubled beginnings for the website.
Brilliant acting from the main cast (Eisenberg, along with Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake as Zuckerberg’s business partners) and some great supporting roles (Armie Hammer as the Winklevoss twins and a small pre-Lisbeth Salander role for Rooney Mara as Zuckerberg’s ex-girlfriend Erica Albright), together with their excellent direction by Fincher, brought Sorkin’s script to life and created a drama worthy of the three Oscars that it won, including Best Original Score for Fincher-film regulars Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Pure class.
Editor’s note: Sam’s column ‘Top 5…’ will run every other Thursday. If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out his next feature on 13th November.