3. Mank (2021)
Mank is a fascinating celebration of classic and contemporary filmmaking. Aside from the black-and-white digital camera (which presents a warm digital image that perfectly accommodates Fincher’s love of high-contrast lighting), the sound and music were recorded and edited to mimic early 1940s technology, and Fincher incorporates some of Welles’ techniques into his own.
Mank explores the divide between artist and businessman, author and writer, and generally speaks to the reality of filmmaking in corporate Hollywood. The titular character, Herman J. Mankiewicz, has to fight for his authorship of Citizen Kane, which he labors over on his own timetable, and the film details the circumstances which led to Kane’s writing due to the company Mank kept.
It should be noted that the film’s narrative is based off a discredited narrative regarding the authorship of Kane, which was written as a reaction to the traditional formulation to auteur theory which privileges directors, but that doesn’t make the film less compelling for any lover of cinema.
2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo came at the end of a four-year run that saw Fincher twice nominated for Best Director – Fincher’s 2007-2011 could compete as one of the best five-year streaks any filmmaker has ever put together. Dragon Tattoo didn’t quite get the acclaim of The Social Network or Benjamin Button, but it represents a refreshing take on the serial killer narratives that run through Fincher’s filmography.
The film takes time to establish its characters as the plot is gradually uncovered, bringing together a journalist and a hacker with the goal of solving the disappearance, presumed murder, of a wealthy man’s niece decades prior. It explores how issues of the past will always come back to haunt the present, and represents a convergence of old media and new technology to achieve what has been thought unachievable.
It’s a shame Fincher didn’t complete the trilogy this story is a part of. There’s a question about its inclusion of a rape scene, but the story does so as a way to portray the reality of violence against women – even those whom are capable action heroes. Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth Salander is given plenty of agency, and is a vital partner to Daniel Craig’s Blomkvist.
Dragon Tattoo is another example of Fincher’s ability to leave his distinctive mark on a story – in this case, one that had already been adapted to screen just two years prior.
1. Zodiac (2007)
This is the film that Fincher should be remembered for. It follows the chronology of the Zodiac murders and letters to the media and police, focusing on a newspaper employee’s obsessive search for the truth.
Zodiac shows the violence perpetrated by its central figure, but it keeps its focus and concern on the victims in the murder scenes. There’s a sense of objectivity to these moments – they’re an attempt to help us recognize why Zodiac inflicted so much fear on San Francisco in this era, why a cartoonist feels motivated to investigate these murders beyond voyeurism and fascination. Zodiac never has a dull moment for a film that is more about what surrounds violence than violence itself.
Zodiac is also a shining example of old-meets-new as a period piece shot on digital. The film’s look in the establishment of the refined aesthetic Fincher would carry through his films between this and Mank (including the show ‘Mindhunter’) is a work that manages to be meditative and captivating at the same time without detracting from the emergent themes. If any film embodies what David Fincher is – a careful filmmaker who wants to visually interpret a story that scars and provokes its audience – it’s Zodiac.
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For close to thirty years David Fincher has left each of us in shock and awe, but which of his films is your personal favourite? Let us know in the comments below, and follow The Film Magazine on Twitter and Facebook to keep up to date with high quality articles like this one.