Flashback: David Fincher

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In the early eighties, a young man started off his film career with odd jobs on sets, moving onto music videos before his foray into feature films. It wasn’t long until he was giving modern cinema some of its catchiest quotes: ‘The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about fight club’, ‘A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars.’ And now David Fincher has another turn to etch himself a place in the cultural zeitgeist with his tenth film, Gone Girl.

Fincher’s films often deal with the theme of perception (see Lisbeth Salander’s ‘freak-ness’ in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Tyler Durden – no spoilers here – in Fight Club), but it was the public’s perception of his work that was threatened with his first film. Thrown in at the deep end, he was hired to helm the third part of the immensely popular Alien saga, which marked drop-off-a-cliff quality and popularity. ‘If the movie is great, I’m gonna get too much credit,’ he said, ‘If it sucks, I’m gonna get too much blame.’ With Alien 3 he suffered the latter. He thought the financiers had more to lose than he did, allowing them overwhelming voices in the direction. But it was he who took the criticism.

Then came the head in the box. With overlord producers out of the way, Fincher’s second film allowed him to show off his creepy, twisted style. Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey came aboard to create Se7en, the story of two detectives trying to catch Spacey’s serial killer, murdering based on the seven deadly sins. Suddenly, Fincher was an auteur: a director so influential he can be considered the equivalent of a book’s author.

Two years later in 1997, he released The Game, the underrated Michael Douglas thriller. With twists, turns and slick direction, it’s one for a Friday night, and confirmed Se7en as no one-off. But it was in 1999 that everything changed. In a landmark year for films (The Matrix, Magnolia, American Beauty, Toy Story 2), one endures perhaps more than any other: Fight Club. Initially meeting a muted reaction from critics and audiences, word-of-mouth kept it alive until it began to thrive. Having struck a chord, the film clicked into place in our culture.

His follow up, Panic Room, though not a patch on Fight Club, could double-bill with The Game, giving you a nail-biting evening. Top that off with the 2007’s true story Zodiac and you may have no nails left. A year later, re-teaming with Pitt, Fincher abandoned the creepiness, telling the tragic tale of a man aging backwards in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

In 2010 he carved himself a place in a new generation of cinema-goers’ hearts with The Social Network, handing breakout roles to Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Rooney Mara. Along with writer Aaron Sorkin, Fincher turned ‘a film about Facebook?’ into a nominee for the Oscars’ Best Picture (it should have won). A year later, he returned to gloriously twisted stories with the American adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

And now, number ten. His fifth book adaptation, Gone Girl, ticks the Fincher boxes: uneasy characters, a riveting plot and plenty of room for perversity. If you’ve read the book, Fincher and Flynn have worked together to give you something new. If you haven’t, don’t read up – don’t even watch the trailer… just go and let yourself be pulled into the work of a real visionary. I’ll eat the first nine films if it disappoints.

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