Robert here, continuing my series on important contemporary directors. As Nathaniel has mentioned, the series is coming to an end. This will be the third-to-last entry. Enjoy!
Maestro: David Fincher
Known For: dark, suspenseful, psychological thrillers.
Influences: Hitchcock, all kinds of noir, Welles, Kubrick, Ridley Scott
Better than you remember: some of his films like Fight Club or Benjamin Button get considerable hype blowback. But looking at them as works of direction they're very very impressive.
Box Office: 127 million for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
"Tales of the strange and unusual" might be a fitting title to David Fincher's filmography. But don't be mislead. His "strange and unusual" isn't the same as other such directors'. It's not the surrealism of Lynch or the benign fantastical of Burton or the sterile other-worldliness of Kubrick. David Fincher's films are set right here in our reality, featuring characters who reflect you and I. Only through the slow process of plot development do we (and they) realize that they're inhabiting a darker, stranger, often more sinister version of what they considered to be their world. And it's how they face that, that primarily interests Fincher. Not all of Fincher's films may have as obvious a revelation as, say, Fight Club. But each character is forced to confront and understand the mysteries that have uprooted their lives. It's a matter of psychology, a butting of the heads of the normal and abnormal, and Fincher wants to know which wins out. To his credit, Fincher provides us with stories that lack such clear answers. Killers are never found (or they are with mixed results), evil is vanquished too late, or the promise of answers (by, for example, a life lived backwards) is not fulfilled. All dark endings necessary to enlighten the complexities of characters.
Since Fincher is primarily interested in his characters his often-noted stylish direction takes on expressionist flourishes meant to place us, the viewer, into the swirling minds of our heroes. His low angles, dark lighting, wide shots and flashy editing are occasionally dismissed as needlessly excessive. But they add to his reality, but taking the setting of our world and creating the unreality felt by his characters. Fincher makes mood pieces that mimic the moods of his subjects.
Fincher has noted what he considers two distinct types of filmaking. The cold technical Kubrick style and the personal sentimental Spielberg style. While he may not have the resume to compete with those men quite yet, Fincher's own style is an interesting marriage of the two. Like Kubrick his interest in his characters more of the clinical variety. He cares not for developing warm and fuzzy sympathies. Yet it is essential to his work that the audience becomes the character. In this way he is very Spielbergian. We must empathize, and inhabit the character. We must know them emotionally or the cold clinical reality will be utterly pointless.
It's been much written that The Social Network is a serious departure for Fincher. I've not had the fortune of seeing that film quite yet, but I think that assessment is most likely true and false. The film still presents a unique psychological case study and a character faced with a redefined reality. It still features dueling psyches and ambiguous resolutions I'm guessing [Editor's note: Your guess is right on the money]. Yet it is tied so distinctly to our modern world, it's hard to see how the encompassing darkness of Fincher will present itself. Fincher has said that he was attracted to the project because it was a departure and it seems to be winning him the best notices of his career. It's a career that's going strong and will hit next with a film that shouldn't be too much of a departure for Fincher (although remakes are new territory): The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Fincher fans will be anticipating how this exciting filmmaker stretches himself into new strange and unusual realities for years to come.