My David Fincher Review Thread

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I've decided to create threads for my reviews - where I can put them into different categories, such as directors, franchises, actors etc. For instance, any David Fincher review I write from now on will go in this thread. Anyone is welcome to post anything they want in my threads to do with the subject - their own reviews or discussions. Outlined Oscar pics are nominations, full ones wins.

I'm aware that there are probably a heap of David Fincher threads already out there - just starting my own for my reviews.

David Fincher

Started : Visual effects producer on Twice Upon a Time (1983)
Assistant cameraman and matte photographer on Return of the Jedi (1983) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Director of commercials and music videos : 1984 to 1993 (notable : Madonna's "Express Yourself", "Oh Father", "Vogue" and "Bad Girl", George Michael's "Freedom! 90", Michael Jackson's "Who is it", Aerosmith's "Janie's Got A Gun", Billy Idol's "Cradle of Love")

Academy Award nominations/wins :
Directing -The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) - nom
Directing - The Social Network (2010) - nom
Directing - Mank (2020) - nom
My movie ratings often go up or down a point or two after more reflection, research and rewatches.

Latest Review : Paper Moon (1973)

11 Foreign Language movies to go

Zodiac - 2007

Directed by David Fincher

Written by James Vanderbilt
Based on a book by Robert Graysmith

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr.
& Mark Ruffalo

Obsession doesn't always live forever. It can live for a while in a person, and die, only to be resurrected later. It can come on like a fever and last a very short while. It can disappear for good, or be recurrent. The David Fincher-directed film Zodiac isn't necessarily all about the Zodiac or his mysterious crimes - this is a film about obsession, and about three men in particular. San Francisco detective David Toschi, San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith and Chronicle crime reporter Paul Avery. All three would have their lives unalterably impacted by their obsession with the person who called himself the Zodiac - a killer who left a mark on the 20th Century in much the same way Jack The Ripper did in the 19th. While the Zodiac's crimes were neither all-encompassing or extraordinary, they were played out in the public eye and created a mystery that has never been adequately explained or solved. His taunting letters and elusiveness tease the imagination, and create the kind of monster that haunts the minds of people who become obsessed with mystery. It's the perfect topic for a film of this nature, and for a David Fincher film. One where what may be a monster is always lurking, just out of frame.

Zodiac pulls a viewer in from the start with artfully composed shots looking in a precise way out from a car's front-side window - something that will be a recurring point of view throughout the film - during 4th of July fireworks in 1969. Two lovers gather and park in a deserted spot, only to be shot by an unknown and unseen assailant. These were Mike Mageau and Darlene Ferrin, the latter who would die. Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" has never sounded as spooky or threatening. "Singing songs of love" seems to be a kind of cruel promise from an omniscient maniac that only delivers death and despair. In fairly short order, the Zodiac has carried out his other two brutal crimes which result in the deaths of Cecelia Shepard and cab driver Paul Stine. Ironically, as far as murders go the Zodiac is finished, but the film is only just beginning. Fincher pulls no punches in showing us most of these crimes in detail, and almost obsessively recreates the crime scenes as they were back in the day. Through the use of Victor J. Zolfo's set decoration, Keith P. Cunningham's art direction, Donald Graham Burt's production design and Fincher's exactitude the audience is very sincerely taken back in time during these re-creations. These crimes serve the basis of a kind of prologue - an excellent one that serves as the audience's entry into this particular rabbit hole.

The self-named Zodiac killer would send letters to his victim's families, to the police and to the press. He would often include ciphers and codes for people to solve, always teasing that some valuable piece of information would be contained in them. He would also go on to claim responsibility for murders he had clearly not committed, but always provide proof for the murders he most certainly did. His frustrating elusiveness would continue for many years - and the crimes were never solved. His murders encompassed a wide geographical area, and as such police had difficulty coordinating their efforts to catch him. Two detectives charged with finding him were San Francisco detectives Dave Toschi and his partner Bill Armstrong. Reporting on the case for the San Francisco Chronicle was Paul Avery, and taking a close interest was the newspaper's cartoonist Robert Graysmith. It would be Graysmith who would end up collecting and collating the mass of information which would go into his novel Zodiac, which would be published in 1986. This book served as the impetus and source material for a script written by James Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt had been part of this project from it's earliest inception.

James Vanderbilt, by the time Zodiac had rolled around, had been involved with several high-profile films. His scripts had always been mangled by co-producers and studios specifying changes that had to be made - ones that would often wreck what could have been good films. 2003 film Basic, directed by John McTiernan, was rendered virtually senseless by a series of 'twists' and stipulations that Vanderbilt acceded to in a good natured kind of way. Zodiac marks the first time he was able to turn in a script to his own satisfaction and not have it mutilated by others. He had built up a friendship with Robert Graysmith, having met him at the premiere of Auto-Focus, a film about the life and death of Bob Crane which had been adapted from a book written by the former cartoonist. This friendship eventually led to a third party at this meeting, Bradley J. Fischer, optioning the rights to Graysmith's Zodiac book. Vanderbilt's script definitely showcases his talents, and people should probably not be so quick to heap all of the praise on to David Fincher without at first acknowledging Vanderbilt's part in starting the whole process and sketching out the details of this successful film. One that melds Graysmith's own journey into the story as a whole. It is Graysmith we stay with for most of the film, as his obsession grows and that of detective Toschi and Avery withers and dies.

Following Graysmith, played with a certain intensity and required obsessiveness by Jake Gyllenhaal, is like a journey into the darkness of every person's soul. Shots are often shrouded in darkness and very dimly lit - but not at the expense of detail. We search for what's not there - but we definitely pick up what is there. Adding to the haunting nature of this is a score that has been refigured from that of the classic film The Conversation by David Shire and follows all of the true-life characters around with their particular cues. It is during Gyllenhaal's scenes where they work their best - during his almost paranoid search for the killer. Robert Downey Jr. gives us something very different as Paul Avery - his delivery of what is an irreverent character in the script is successfully put across in his well-perfected irreverent style. Mark Ruffalo's Toschi completes this triangle of obsessed searchers with a more disciplined veneer as you'd expect from a police detective. Gyllenhaal, however, has the more challenging part. The only actor aside from these three who is really pushed into a dark corner is John Carroll Lynch, who plays Graysmith's favourite suspect - Arthur Leigh Allen. Pleasing, is the wide array of talent on display here in Zodiac, even for lesser characters. Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, ChloŽ Sevigny and Dermot Mulroney are always harbingers of good things in films.

Visually, Zodiac makes this mystery more involving with interesting ways to pass time - and some breathtaking shots of San Francisco and surrounding areas. At one stage we witness the Transamerica Pyramid being built stop-motion style, which clues us in to how long the hunt is dragging on for. Director of Photography Harris Savides had worked with Fincher previously, creating the opening credits sequence for Se7en and shooting his 1997 thriller The Game - a critical success. The technical department does resort to using CGI, but thankfully this isn't easily spotted and is unobtrusive. Some other inventive visual styles are included in footage re-edited back into the film in the longer special director's cut released a while later. You'll notice some of the Zodiac's ciphers making their way into the images that pass by. It all adds to a feeling of mystery - as if the film itself is haunted by an unseen ghost. The San Francisco Chronicle set does however look like a post office - which is what they had used as a substitute. Other sets look fine, and are decorated with period-appropriate items of interest. I enjoyed seeing Paul Avery's Pong game when he's visited by Graysmith.

From Toschi's hunt to Avery's investigative reporting and Graysmith's obsession with the killer we get to learn nearly everything of interest in this true life story and still hunger for more. Of course, we want a solution - and Fincher and Graysmith do think they have one, but not everyone has been convinced. Regardless, you'll come out of seeing Zodiac with a disquieting feeling that the dark unknown is swallowing this mystery, and it makes us all a little uneasy. This is an engaging and enjoyable film that doesn't feel at all long even at 157 minutes. Best of all, we feel what the characters are feeling, whether that be curiosity or fear. When we follow Toschi we feel like a predator hunting something elusive. When Graysmith feels he may have trapped himself in a suspect's apartment we feel like the prey. From a top rate script to confident filmmaking from Fincher, added to a good score and interesting photography, this popular film entertainins on successive viewings and is interesting - not to mention attention-grabbing. On the occasions it wants to be funny, especially with Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards - it succeeds. Best of all, it is haunting. When Graysmith says, "I need to know who he is. I need to stand there, I need to look him in the eye, and I need to know that it's him," he's putting into words the emotional hunger that grows from haunting obsessions like these - one that the film captures exceedingly well. Always be careful. They can cost a person so very much, while not always shedding light on what's out there in the darkness.

11 Foreign Language movies to go
I watched Zodiac for the Personal Recommendation IV. My review of it set off a bit of a firestorm here
It's all okay because I'm yet another person who didn't like The Post. At the end of the day, it seems that every single one of us can shake hands and agree on that

It's time to have some fun
It's all okay because I'm yet another person who didn't like The Post. At the end of the day, it seems that every single one of us can shake hands and agree on that
I'm cool with that I must have mentioned The Post in my review? (I haven't read my review since I wrote it, so I don't really remember...But it's true I didn't care for The Post.)

BTW, I do like your idea of exploring one director's work I've wanted to do that myself. I once started to do just that but got side tracked.

11 Foreign Language movies to go
I'm cool with that I must have mentioned The Post in my review? (I haven't read my review since I wrote it, so I don't really remember...But it's true I didn't care for The Post.)
Yeah, it was kind of an addendum to everyone's 2 cents during the debate. Several people mentioned that they agreed wholeheartedly about your thoughts on it. I do too.

I am the Watcher in the Night
Will I be exiled for saying I'm not a fan of Zodiac. Fincher was on such a run with Seven, Fight Club...even The Game and although Zodiac is a functional movie, looks good, is well acted it just never intrigued me. Maybe it's because RDJ is always a bit too flaky for my liking unless he's iron man and maybe because it lacked the brutal hook of seven or the intrigue of Gone Girl. I may re-watch it.
"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn"

"I need your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle"

Huge fan of Fincher, although I prefer his first run of films a lot more than his latest run. But he's still one of the best directors working right now.
Check out my podcast: The Movie Loot!

11 Foreign Language movies to go
Will I be exiled for saying I'm not a fan of Zodiac.
You're far from alone in that respect, and although I do quite like it (especially it's chilling atmosphere and exploration of obsession) it's far from the perfect movie. Se7en and Fight Club were extraordinary - and it's a definite step-down from that era of his. They say a director has a peak creative life of 10 years, but I think Fincher has managed to reinvent himself a few times, and a lot of people here probably have a lot of varying opinions as to how successful those reinventions have been.

I've always been a big fan of Zodiac, and it's actually my current favorite Fincher, as you can see here in my review of it:

There's more than one way to lose your life to a killer.

WARNING: spoilers below
The grainy crackle of two vintage, late 60's studio logos set the retro-stage, before the soothing sounds of Three Dog Night's "Easy To Be Hard" begins to play against the spectacular sight of the San Francisco skyline on the 4th Of July, 1969, as fireworks illuminate the looming silhouette of the Golden Gate Bridge, and a young surburban couple head out on an impromptu date to their local lover's lane, creating a seemingly perfect portrait of vintage, picket-fenced Americana.

However, this picture is soon shattered by the glare of another car's headlights idling menacingly behind them, before that glare is replaced by that of a flashlight as an unseen assailant gets out and approaches them, the light piercing through the darkness as a relentless stream of bullets from a gun similarly pierces the victims, their blood splattering all over the car in a sickening slow motion. Moments later, as a patrolman responds to this horrific scene, we hear an eerie male voice call the local 911 and say "I wanna report a murder. No... a double murder. If you go one mile east on Columbus Parkway, to a public park, you'll find kids in a brown car. They were shot with a 9mm Luger. I also killed those kids last year. Good... bye", before he abruptly hangs up, ending the call just as suddenly as he did the lives of his victims.

This is the opening scene of David Fincher's Zodiac, a perfectly jarring introduction to this bloody chapter of Northern California history, in a film that's a superb addition to the serial killer/procedural sub-genre, and one of the best films of the 2000's, as well as the iconic auteur's best work to date, as far as I'm concerned.

Obviously, it tells the true story of the titular serial killer who terrorizied the Bay Area with a string of grisly shootings & stabbings back in the 60's, but, while Zodiac certainly isn't the first serial killer procedural ever made, it's the particular way that Fincher tells this tale that makes it special, as he juggles a multitude of story threads and perspectives throughout the tangled case, going back and forth between the police investigation, various minor characters, and the journalists of The San Francisco Chronicle, who share an unusually close relationship to the killer, as he periodically pens multiple taunting letters to the paper, manipulating them like puppets to feed his own appetite for mass media attention. It's this aspect that sort of makes Zodiac feel like if the newsroom scenes in All The President's Men were occasionally interspersed with scenes of grimly horrifying murders, the omnipresent ringing of rotary phones in the background giving way to the piercing sounds of the victims' screams.

But despite these grisly setpieces, Zodiac isn't a work of crass exploitation, but a sharp, methodical procedural at its core, as Fincher takes the same basic subject matter of his breakthrough (if somewhat overrated) work Se7en, and directs it in a less sensationalized, more mature manner, as he knows exactly when to get "flashy" with his style here (like a spectacular overhead tracking shot from the heavens of a taxi weaving its way through the San Fran streets), and when to hang back and just let the story speak for itself, as the propulsive pacing, sudden timeline jumps, and rapid-fire bursts of exposition of the first half give way to Robert Graysmith's under the table, one-man investigation in the second.

Jake Gyllenhaal puts in a perfectly-cast performance as the hopelessly bookish, perpetually unrespected cartoonist, who goes from being an often-dismissed bystander that occasionally contributes a tiny bit to the case, to the only person keeping the hunt for the Zodiac alive, which contrasts nicely with the fall of crime reporter Paul Avery (also perfectly played by Robert Downey Jr., in a somewhat autobiographical role), the man who seems like he should be the "star" of the case, until his various self-destructive tendencies prove to be his downfall, even as he's imbued with plenty of quippy, rock star charisma courtesy of RDJ, to the point that it's baffling to think there was ever a time when he wasn't one of the world's biggest movie stars.

However, the film's focus in its 2nd half smartly remains on Graysmith and his futile, seemingly endless journey into a (sometimes literal) underworld of endless, labyrinthine deadends, and even when Graysmith does seem to make progress, his marriage is still crumbling underneath the crushing weight of his Quixotic obsession with the case, which hits home even closer than before when it seems as though the anonymous killer has begun targeting Graysmith himself with a series of unnerving calls to his home, the same one where his wife and children live, unaware of the threat he has invited into their midst.

Although, even when those calls come to a suspiciously convenient end with the death of the primary suspect in the case, his death still not only robs us of a sense of justice, as he dies of a heart attack before he could be arrested, but we also learn that his DNA was a mismatch for the real killer's, robbing us even of a sense of finality, as we're left with the sobering, haunting possibility at the end of the film that the "Hurdy Gurdy Man" could still be out there, just waiting to sing his songs of murder again someday, somewhere.

Final Score: 9

The trick is not minding
Iíve yet to see Gone Girl, Zodiac (I kbow!) or The Game, but other then Benjamin Button, Iíve enjoyed all of his films. Yes, that includes Alien 3.
Fight Club is good, but hardly the classic itís made out to be. That last half hour was rather clumsy.

im still yet to see Zodiac

I am the Watcher in the Night
You're far from alone in that respect, and although I do quite like it (especially it's chilling atmosphere and exploration of obsession) it's far from the perfect movie. Se7en and Fight Club were extraordinary - and it's a definite step-down from that era of his. They say a director has a peak creative life of 10 years, but I think Fincher has managed to reinvent himself a few times, and a lot of people here probably have a lot of varying opinions as to how successful those reinventions have been.
I took a stroll down IMDB memory lane to remind myself of Fincher's films:

Alien 3 is his first big break and although it's an average film I love the look of it and the style is so different to both Scott and Cameron. You can see he's learning his craft.

Then, along comes Seven and it's a remarkable work of 90s cinema, gritty, ugly, masculine, well though out, humorous and perfectly paced, soon after there's The Game, a good but not great film and one of my favourites, Fight Club! These films all have particular themes, look and style, absolute peak for Fincher from 1995 to 1999.

Panic Room, which I have not seen in a while, was enjoyable and had some astounding shots in there, down to the director but also the VFX team. Not peak Fincher but better than Zodiac and Benjamin Button (enjoyable but far too long and as I watched it, I kept thinking of Forest Gump haha). That takes us all the way through to 2008, a 13 year period of largely very good films.

The next few years for me are poor, Social Network is boring and ...Dragon Tattoo is ok but not as good as the euro original but then there's Gone Girl, a return to form or a last hoorah? Because I found Mank so self indulgent and one obsessed with showing how smart and knowledgeable the production crew is about the era, rather than making a good film.

Seven - Has a great visual understanding of dread and gloom and urban decay. A pretty good attempt at recreating the mindset of a lot of the great American New Wave films of the 70's. Unfortunately, the characters kind of sink below the murk a bit, and go through a lot of the obvious reflexes we expect of the beaten down veteran cop, and the face licking antics of Brad Pitts new puppy schtick. Probably not necessary for the movie to have complex characters to be as involving as it ultimately is, but it would have been nice.

The Game - It can be annoyingly preposterous, but it clearly isn't aiming for pure realism. It's just an excuse for Fincher to keep flexing his paranoia muscles. Empty and stupid, but simply on cinematic terms, in the same ball park as Seven, if not nearly as memorable as that.

Alien 3 - Don't remember much of it. Not as bad as its reputation. Brings yet another voice to the franchise, and I can see why some might like it more than me, but (memory recalls) its bleakness feels suffocating and repetitive.

Fight Club - appealed to my younger brain which only wanted to burn the world down just for the sake of a little fire. But over time, as one gets older, the fact that this film has begun to operate as some kind of bat signal to the worst kind of film fans makes it understandable one might want to distance themselves from the nihilism cult it has created. I don't think it entirely deserves the snooty sniffing it receives these days (by people like me) but its a movie that one treads cautiously taking very seriously, when those who take it seriously are best ignored. Unfortunate, since it some of Fincher's most clever filmmaking, functions fairly well when considered as pure satire, has a handful of great characters and did feel like a legitimate jolt to the system at the time it was made.

Social Network - Great character study, and a surprisingly fascinating window into the life of an almost completely empty man (except for the spite) who made an equally unappealing product (that would only grow increasingly so since the film). The film is just as tight and well oiled as we expect from any quality Fincher. Also very good.

Zodiac - His only great film. It's already been discussed to death so why bother. Many of the general complaints about it don't wash with me though. Those who think it is too long and too repetitive, why they are well within their rights to not like such a film, are simply wrong when they think it would be improved by being shortened, and having its action have more forward momentum. Zodiac is meant to punish the viewer in some ways. It's meant to be like some horrible ear worm of a song that you don't want there and that just keeps repeating over and over again in your head. It's the only Fincher film whose structure and mood reflects the point it is trying to make, and draws us into the heads of the characters, which have just become labyrinths with no proper exit. If you turn this into a conventional police investigation movie (one that can't have any properly resolution) it would have almost certainly been half the film, or even a pretty bad one. It succeeds by driving us mad along with an investigation choked with insignificant details we can't help but invest ourselves in, over and over again. The culmination of everything he began to do with Seven, turned into something that is more than just a bunch of grimy thrills.

Panic Room - Barely remember this. But nothing about it seemed remarkable. I wouldn't be surprised if it was well made, but to what end? Seemed like so many interchangeable thrillers of the time.

Benjamin Button - A structural mess, and frequently a pretty dull slog. It does have little poetic moments in it, which is nice since Fincher is not a terribly poetic filmmaker. But they live in isolation, without connection to anything around them.

Dragon Tattoo - I don't think I've seen this. But I feel I might as well have. I can just about imagine exactly what he would do with it when I close my eyes. Already bored. Fincher coasting on fumes (or so I imagine)

Gone Girl - I hate this so much I don't even want to talk about it. I can only assume the source material is dreadful for him to have fallen so off the mark here. His one legitimately bad movie.

I watched Zodiac for the Personal Recommendation IV. My review of it set off a bit of a firestorm here
I don't see anything "gratuitous" about the violence in Zodiac (I mean, the movie cuts away from one of the murders when it's only halfway through, and it straight-up doesn't depict one of the Zodiac killer's confirmed earlier murders), but to each their own.

Zodiac and Alien 3 are the only ones I've seen I have any real fondness for, as their period setting and genre, respectively, ground his usual nihilism somewhat. Other than that, his mixture of exacting technique and obnoxious worldview means that I find his films engaging in the moment but rather off putting afterwards.