The Films of David Fincher
Panic Room (December 10/16)
A top-notch thriller, Panic Room follows recent divorcée Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) as she and her teenage daughter (Kristen Stewart's Sarah) move into an incredibly expensive (and expansive) New York City brownstone - where, on their first night living there, the pair are forced to hide out in the title location after a trio of criminals (Forest Whitaker's Burnham, Jared Leto's Junior, and Dwight Yoakam's Raoul) break in. Panic Room, which kicks off with an indelible, near iconic opening credits sequence, effectively establishes the two central characters and the geography of their spacious new home, as filmmaker David Fincher does an absolutely superb job of laying the groundwork for the suspenseful narrative that inevitably ensues - with David Koepp's screenplay effectively punctuating the proceedings with welcome bursts of levity (eg the oddball chemistry between the three intruders). The film's engrossing atmosphere is heightened on an ongoing basis by Fincher's propensity for stylishly tense interludes, with, especially, Meg and Sarah's initial efforts at dashing into the panic room before the villains grab them setting an exceedingly high bar for everything that's to follow. (It's worth noting, though, that the movie does subsequently boast a handful of equally impressive set pieces, including a climactic stretch that ensures the whole thing ends on a viscerally exciting note.) And while the film's slightly overlong running time does result in a few lulls within its midsection, Panic Room, bolstered by uniformly strong performances and Fincher's typically eye-popping visuals, ultimately comes off as a spellbinding home-invasion chiller that remains a cut above its similarly-themed brethren.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Social Network (October 1/10)
From filmmaker David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin comes this (purportedly) true life tale about the creation of Facebook, with the movie detailing Mark Zuckerberg's (Jesse Eisenberg) ongoing trials and tribulations surrounding the site's inception and eventual expansion. There's little doubt that The Social Network does take a while to get going, with Fincher's decision to open the proceedings with a lengthy sequence in which Zuckerberg is dumped by his girlfriend (Rooney Mara's Erica Albright) undoubtedly setting a less-than-enthralling tone - as Eisenberg initially seems to be offering up a variation on his usual neurotic, fast-talking shtick. It does, however, become increasingly clear that Eisenberg is up to something far more complex than one might have initially suspected, and it's ultimately impossible not to marvel at the lengths the actor goes to in portraying Zuckerberg's fiercely antisocial and almost sociopathic personality. Likewise, the supporting cast has been filled by an impressive roster of performers that ultimately elevate the proceedings on an all-too-frequent basis - with Armie Hammer's scene-stealing work as the Winklevoss twins undoubtedly standing as a highlight. Fincher's notoriously exacting visual sensibilities are put to especially impressive (and consistently enthralling) use here, as the filmmaker does a superb job of meticulously replicating the plush environs occupied by Zuckerberg and the movie's various periphery characters (and it's also worth noting that Fincher has peppered the proceedings with several sequences that are nothing short of exhilarating in their audacity, including a breathtaking stretch set at a rowing competition). The film's progressively engrossing atmosphere ensures that the viewer is left wanting more (much more) by the time the end credits start to roll, which effectively cements The Social Network's place as an incredibly solid drama that has plenty to offer both computer buffs and neophytes alike.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (December 28/11)
Based on the book by Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo follows disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) as he reluctantly agrees to help an aging industrialist (Christopher Plummer's Henrik Vanger) solve the mystery of his dead niece - with Blomkvist's efforts eventually aided by a brilliant yet asocial hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Much like its literary and cinematic predecessors, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo unfolds at a decidedly deliberate pace that does, at the outset, hold the viewer at arm's length - with the less-than-engrossing atmosphere compounded by scripter Steven Zaillian's needlessly reverent take on the source material (ie the emphasis on the minutia of Blomkvist's investigation is, at times, oppressive). The movie's consistently watchable feel, then, is due primarily to filmmaker David Fincher's captivating directorial choices and the stellar work from the various performers, with, in terms of the latter, Mara's turn as Larsson's iconic creation certainly as effective (and affecting) as one might've hoped - although, by that same token, it does eventually become clear that Salander has been drained of some of her more overtly antisocial personality traits (ie Noomi Rapace remains the definitive Lisbeth Salander). There's little doubt that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo hits its stride as Blomkvist and Salander finally begin working together somewhere around the halfway mark, with the strength of their scenes together generally compensating for the almost excessive familiarity of the story (ie after a book and a movie, Dragon Tattoo fatigue can't help but set in). The film's palpably drawn-out running time and pervasive sense of unevenness - ie there's quite a lull in the buildup to the climax - ultimately diminishes its overall impact, which does, in the final analysis, cement The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's place as an entertaining yet somewhat disappointing effort from Fincher.
Gone Girl (November 19/14)
There's little doubt that David Fincher's propensity for overlong movies has reached its breaking point, as Gone Girl, for the most part, feels like an excellent thriller trapped within the confines of a bloated (and palpably plodding) drama - which is a shame, certainly, given that the film boasts a whole raft of exceedingly positive attributes (including flawless visuals, superb performances, and a smattering of thoroughly tense sequences). The movie, which details the uproar that ensues after Nick Dunne's (Ben Affleck) wife (Rosamund Pike's Amy) goes missing under mysterious circumstances, has been hard-wired with a thoroughly lethargic pace that holds the viewer at arms length for much of its 149 minute (!) running time, with this vibe certainly perpetuated by an opening hour that suffers from a distinct paucity of electrifying moments (ie for lack of a better word, Gone Girl's first half just feels routine). It's just as clear, however, that the movie benefits substantially from Fincher's typically meticulous sense of style, as the filmmaker ensures that virtually every single frame boasts a compelling, eye-catching feel - which, when coupled with the actors' above-average efforts, ensures that Gone Girl is, at the very least, consistently watchable. There are, having said that, a few stretches here that are undoubtedly heightened by Fincher's directorial prowess, with the best and most engrossing example of this a montage at the film's midway point depicting how a certain character has been spending their time. The prolonged finale ultimately confirms Gone Girl's place as an entertaining yet relentlessly padded-out piece of work, and it is, at this point, hard to imagine that Fincher's output will ever again reach the heights of early efforts like Se7en and The Game.