David Fincher’s latest flick Gone Girl had a successful opening last weekend in the USA. Loved by the audience and the critics, it cements Fincher’s name as one of the most talented and trustworthy Hollywood directors seen over the past two decades. He has gradually worked his way to the top, having begun his career at Korty Films and then George Lucas’ Industrial Lights & Magic, then moving to directing TV ads and music videos, before being brought in for his movie debut as a director to the franchise that began with Ridley Scott and was followed by James Cameron. Yep, the Alien series. Big shoes to fill in, and the young Ridley Scott who was not even 30 by then, faced a tough task to manage the high-budget film Alien 3. He eventually cited a lot of studio interference and distanced himself from the film, once even claiming, “No one hated it more than me; to this day, no one hates it more than me.” The movie did not do too badly though at the box-office, but it cannot be seen as an indicator of what a David Fincher film could be all about. Because what has followed since then has been simply spectacular! Fincher has dabbled with many styles of movies, crime thriller, drama, science fiction, biopic, and with each film he manages something that many directors keep dreaming of — a commercially viable project that entertains while at the same time is in itself a piece of art worth raving about.
Of the nine feature films that Fincher has directed prior to Gone Girl, I put to you a list of those three films which I hail as his best works yet. Just like any other list, this one too is subjective and open to debate. But the fact that these movies will stand out for their movie-making brilliance seems non-debatable to me.
Se7en (Rank #3)
Apart from the usage of ‘7’ for ‘v’ which comes across as an unnecessary stylisation of a rather simple word, there is little wrong with this 1995 movie. It is in fact one of the best crime thrillers one could ever get to see, which has everything going right for it — a gripping story, terrific acting and a nail-biting end. This was Fincher’s second movie as a director after Alien 3, and he took it up as he was fascinated by Andrew Walker’s script. As the story goes, the studios mistakenly sent Fincher the original script which had the “head in the box” ending, that the studios had decided to remove. But Fincher and even actor Brad Pitt fought hard enough to keep the original ending, and I have to say, that it is the horror of that finale which elevates the movie’s impact to a whole new level. On the face of it, a serial killer who is using the seven deadly sins as his modus operandi, while two cops, a senior and a junior, are hot on his heels, forms the basic premise. But Se7en is more than just a detective chase; it is about the amorality of the society that we live in, the pollution and corruption in our everyday lives, the stench and dirt which we cross each day. Those are the aspects which Fincher captured with the dark tones of his film that make Se7en such a powerful film. Morgan Freeman as Detective Lieutenant William Somerset and Brad Pitt as Detective David Mills gave one of their finest and most powerful performances in the movie. Se7en holds a 8.7 rating as of now on Imdb, putting it at #22 on the movie website’s list of top films. It was a huge financial success with a $327 million worldwide earnings figure as against a production budget of only $33 million. And what it truly did was bring forth the talent and vision of David Fincher to the audience, and show them what this man could do with the right script in his hand. For that itself, Se7en should be hailed!
The Social Network (#2 Rank)
In 2010, David Fincher released the biopic on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and while Zuckerberg scoffed at various elements in the film, one can easily sideline the accuracy of events briefly for now to hail The Social Network as one of the finest forms of film-making to come out in the past decade. With a terrific screenplay by Aaron Sorkin in his hand, David Fincher has done wonders with The Social Network. He did not simply narrate the rise of Facebook and its founder in a bookish manner, but gave it a very stylish look by creating a non-linear narrative. So the movie moves back and forth between an on-going disposition for the lawsuits filed against Zuckerberg, and the rise of Facebook from its early days on Harvard campus. The Social Network is a debate in itself on the ethics that go behind a business, on how do you see what is right and what is not. But while this is an undertone throughout the film, it is not a lesson on corporate ethics. The Social Network in fact is filled with humour, and irony, and lots of love and friendship, and betrayal, and hatred, and a lot many things, that make it energetic and give it a very youthful vibe. It is also the time when people would have seriously looked at Jesse Eisenberg who gave a goosebumps-inducing performance in the lead character, and got an Oscar nomination for his efforts. The movie also gave us a better look at Andrew Garfield before he went on to don the red and blue costume of Spider-Man. The Social Network was nominated for 8 Oscar nominations, including one for David Fincher (which he lost out to Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech). It was commercially successful with $225 million worldwide earnings as against a modest production budget of $40 million. So a commercial and critical success, The Social Network will stand out as a terrific and engaging piece of film-making for years to come.
Fight Club (#1 Rank)
What do you not like about Fight Club? Think about it, and then think again. For if a movie as bold and visionary as Fight Club could not appeal to all your senses completely, then you ain’t cut out for classics. Did the excessive violence bother you? Did the language get to you? Did the whole notion of bringing down a society which has turned overtly materialistic annoy you? To many like me, these are the very reasons that make Fight Club stand out in cinematic history. Based on Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, David Fincher has gone on to build one of the biggest cult hits of our generation. Released in 1999, Fight Club was a hotly debated movie, loved by some, heavily criticized by others. It was not a commercial success in its theatrical run, for its $100 million worldwide revenues would not have got back the $63 million investment made in the movie. The investment was high mainly on the back of casting a big star as Brad Pitt (whose pay check itself is said to be $17.5 million). But David Fincher, who was not pleased with the way the marketing of the film was handled, oversaw its DVD release meticulously. The film went on to become one of the biggest sellers for the studio in the home media market, earned hefty amounts in the rentals business too, and eventually became a profitable venture for the studio. Beyond the commercials, the movie has developed a cult following, holds a 8.9 rating on Imdb, and features as high as #10 on the movie website’s list of top rated movies. What works for it? For the common man, the basic idea of the movie of being caught in the routine of a life is something easy to relate to. The angst and desire to break free is there at the sub-conscious level, which is what Fight Club displays. The movie is not a lesson on what to do, but a translation of what you want. It does not guide you, but makes you aware of what you feel on some level. It is bold with its visual displays, with its language, with its attitude. “I felt like destroying something beautiful” is a line that has stayed with me for so many years after watching the film. It is haunting and yet captivating. It has Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden in a performance that blew away my mind. It has Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter with terrific performances to complement that of Pitt. It has David Fincher at his very best!
It may be that as David Fincher has grown to be a bigger and more reliable draw at the box-office over the years, he may not venture into something as different and as “outrageous” as Fight Club ever again. Or may be I am wrong, and Fincher has it in him to do the unthinkable once again. We do hope so. Looking forward to more works from this amazing director…