With David Fincher’s remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo hitting DVD any day now I thought it would be a good time to go over his career to date and hit you all up with a little theory of mine regarding the path of his career (complete with graph – yay!) before reviewing the film itself (a theory I recently aired on the podcast so feel free to skip to Part Two if you’ve heard it before).
News that David Fincher was going to be helming the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo remake troubled me. Firstly, I’m not a fan of the old Hollywood remake. OK there have been a few good ‘uns and occasionally – very occasionally – one will surface that surpasses the original (sorry Asian cinema fans, but I found The Departed to be a much better film than Infernal Affairs…) Generally though I view the entire process as pointless re-hashing for lazy bum-wits who can’t be bothered to read and have no desire to be immersed in a full-on cinema experience. With Fincher being one of the few mainstream directors that operates with any degree of intelligence (watch the special features on Zodiac and tell me he wouldn’t have made one hell of a detective…)
I didn’t want to see him tied up for five years on a bunch of remakes at the expense of two or three new, original movies (very similar to the way I felt when Guillermo Del Toro originally signed on to make The Hobbit). But I also had another reason to fear this movie; The Fincher Zigzag. Fincher, while clearly a great director, has a consistency issue. Plot his films on a chart and they create one hell of a rollercoaster ride, a one-on/one-off pattern that, in my opinion, he has yet to break.
Let’s discuss: We can all agree that his directorial debut, the practically disowned Alien 3 (1992), is pants, yes? Some good ideas, but ultimately unworthy of following in the footsteps of it’s two predecessors (issues of studio interference aside, I’d argue that there was never a great film in that jumble of an unfinished script).
OK, so let’s move on. Fincher, humiliated, angry and vowing never to lose control of a film again, rallied his talents and his nerve and, with a unrelenting script from Andrew Kevin Walker, came back to the party in 1995 with Se7en, the film that revived the serial killer movie overnight and introduced us to Fincher the man, not the Hollywood plaything, a director with a pitch-black viewfinder and a strong stomach (although I loved it, I did have some complaints, shared by many at the time I seem to remember: why is it always raining? Did every scene have to be so dark? Couldn’t there have been a couple of jokes? The first steps into Fincher’s world were difficult for a lot of us).
The Game (1997) came next and, yes, it’s solid entertainment through and through but lightweight fluff compared to the films that it sits between. Because if Se7en was a wake-up call to Fincher’s talent and a genre definer to boot, Fight Club (1999) stood, and still stands, in a genre of its own. Here was Fincher at the top of his game and having fun with it, untouchable and in control, subverting his pretty-boy star in an end of the century look at male identity, mindless consumption and the healing properties of violence.
Although more mischievous than genuinely subversive, it’s arguably Fincher’s best loved film (although that same love didn’t stop the Fox executive that green-lit the project from losing his job) and still holds up as one of the most thrilling and unique films put out by a major studio since the ‘70s.
The very run-of-the-mill Panic Room (2002) came next (when every reviewer mentions how cool the opening title sequence is, you must start to wonder if people are having trouble finding something nice to say…) only for Fincher to up his game again with perhaps the best procedural drama of the last twenty years, the epic Zodiac (2007). Exhaustively researched, beautifully cast and with some of the most seamless CGI I have ever seen (watch the extra features to see just how extensively they added digital detail to location shooting to recreate 1970’s San Francisco) Zodiac is an under-appreciated masterpiece and one of his greatest achievements.
Back-sliding again Fincher hit, in my opinion, an (Alien-aside) all-time low in 2008 with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Slow, clumsy and – unusually for Fincher – bleak but without substance, Button just didn’t work for me at all. Back with Brad Pitt for a third time the attention to period detail and scope of the movie said that this was Fincher at work, but I suspect, he was more interested in the digital trickery that made the film possible than the story he was trying to tell.
Then the irresistible hold of the pattern gripped him again and he was back off at his best with his Facebook movie The Social Network (2010). Funny, fast and playing like a cross between Rainman and Wall Street, the Aaron Sorkin scripted The Social Network left Fincher at the peak of yet another zig facing what sure as hell looked like yet another zag… So. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo? Not looking so promising now is it?
Back with a full review soon.