December’s Filmmaker of the Month: David Fincher

David Fincher David Fincher

In honor of the release of Mank, we look back at the director who’s continued to blend noir, thriller, black comedy, and mainstream appeal.

There’s quite the gap between romanticism and cynicism, and for the most part, David Fincher falls in the latter camp. Quite easily, in fact—his movies are full of disaffected anarchists, serial killers, conniving spouses, and misogynistic college snobs. Is he one-note, though? No, and his latest, Mank, blurs the lines between his sensibilities. In honor of the veteran’s newest work, we’re spending December plumbing Fincher’s works, starting with 1992’s Alien3.

Of course, he’s since expressed his dismay at the sequel, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have its merits (or its fans). Xenomorphs and buzzed haircuts are cool, but it was with 1995’s Se7en that the director really hit his stride, a peeling patina that blended neo-noir with shock horror. It goes without saying that that barreling sense of momentum is what stuck the most later on. The quasi-psychosis of The Game; the Freudian, homoerotic Marxism of Fight Club; Panic Room’s pressure-cooker setting—they all carried this trend. And yet even with these similarities, they’ve, by and large, each earned different fan bases.

If anything, his career synergized these aspects with time, combining mainstream appeal with an auteurist stamp in Zodiac. It’s a procedural, a thriller film, and even a droll comedy at times, but it’s also the mark of director continually honing their craft. Depending on whom you ask, it might have been jarring for his next to be a romantic fantasy with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. But yes, next came The Social Network, which maintained almost as much pity for its characters as it did outward resentment. Written by Aaron Sorkin, the Zuckerberg pic proved Fincher’s aptitude at turning a script from a much different voice into something resembling his own.

Then came two novel adaptations: one of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; and Gone Girl, adapted by Gillian Flynn. The narrative cruelty came to a head in the early-to-mid-2010s, but with the latter, Fincher had fun with it. More importantly, he found the fun in it. It’s been six years since Gone Girl hit theaters, and in the interim, he’s made Mank. His own father, Jack Fincher, wrote the biopic of Citizen Kane writer Herman J. Mankiewicz, and it’s as much a gentle ode to Hollywood’s Golden Age as it is a scathing reframing of it. David Fincher may appear a cynic at first blush. He sometimes might even appear a romantic. But he’s also a realist, and most of the time, that realism just happens to find itself in tragedy.

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