House of Cards

7. House of Cards
Scripted by Beau Willimon

Consider this a bit of an interlude. David Fincher acted as exec producer on this Netflix series developed and scripted by Beau Willimon, and directed the first two episodes of the show. The first episode could almost be considered a stand-alone mini-movie, especially as it reunites Fincher with his surprise Se7en antagonist Kevin Spacey. The director was intimately involved in casting the show, and by this point had power enough to draw in first choices across the board. That understanding of the intense relationship between script and cast gave House of Cards a powerful advantage right from the start. Watching these two episodes, especially scenes with Spacey, the powerful Robin Wright, and Kate Mara and Corey Stoll, is like taking in a pop-art distillation of all Fincher’s approach to casting on film.


6. Panic Room
Scripted by David Koepp

Fincher the craftsman takes firm charge in this minor but lively thriller. More unique than The Game, Panic Room is explicitly Hitchcokian in spirit. David Koepp’s fairly thin screenplay is given a boost by intense performances from Jodie Foster, a very young Kristen Stewart and the trio of Dwight Yoakam, Forest Whitaker and Jared Leto. Together with the energy of the cast, Fincher’s ability to fully establish and explore locations creates and maintains tension in this very elaborate single-location thriller.

Even so, in Panic Room Fincher’s ambitions and obsessions arguably get the better of him. What could have been a quick, vicious exercise packs on extra weight thanks to the director’s intensely detail-oriented planning and conceptualization of the film’s setpieces. A full version of the central apartment was constructed in-studio, with multiple versions of sets built to allow unusual camera angles. The use of computer software to plan and visualized Panic Room expanded upon the CG work Fincher did with Fight Club, but also locked the director in to a very specific approach when the time came to shoot the film. The text of Panic Room is not explicitly personal, but when it comes to the effect of obsessive tendencies on the experience and outcome of a situation, few of Fincher’s works are as ironically illustrative as this.


5. Gone Girl
Scripted by Gillian Flynn based on her novel

There’s an easy and very superficial reading to take away from Gone Girl: *marriage*, amirite?!? But the surface of this lurid, even trashy thriller conceals a vicious satirical attack on the current media culture and the ways in which our understanding of media tactics affect our own behavior. Ben Affleck is perfectly cast as Nick Dunne, whose wife Amy goes missing on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary. As Amy, Rosamund Pike is offered the chance to create a tornado of a performance, and she embraces the opportunity. More than perhaps any other character in Fincher’s canon to date, the version of Amy Dunne created on screen here has the potential to inspire conversation and argument.

Leaping off from Gillian Flynn’s novel, here Fincher also indulges small diversions and tics that expand the story far beyond the bounds of a thriller. Initially an almost-frigid mystery, Gone Girl reveals its true spirit to be so blackly twisted that it edges into deep, dark comedy in the third act. Part of me wants to see a cut of Gone Girl that is far more contained, because the core mystery is something we’ve been conditioned to expect as the total experience of a film such as this. But here Fincher is at his most deliberately subversive since Fight Club, and he toys with the material, and the audience, in a manner that should be exhilarating to any genre fan.


4. Se7en
Scripted by Andrew Kevin Walker

It’s difficult now to remember the shrugs this film earned before opening — the guy who made Alien³ and those Madonnna videos doing a serious thriller with Brad Pitt? Yeah, whatever. Then Se7en carved the faces off audiences, and set up Pitt to be a true movie star rather than just a pretty romantic lead. Walker’s script gets right to the meat of the crime picture, and then rubs our faces in despair for two hours. Which is to say: Se7en gives us exactly what we want, and then makes us regret it. From Kyle Cooper’s intimidating, ultra-creepy titles to the extreme visions of murder, Se7en is literary but visceral, surprising but not cheap, and drenched in an oppressive atmosphere to match the endless rain that envelops the characters.

We became truly aware of Fincher’s talent for casting here, as Pitt’s energy and the gravitas of Morgan Freeman add an extra layer of tension to Walker’s script. Fincher obviously understands both the destructive impulsiveness of Pitt’s Detective Mills, and the cautious and methodical work of Freeman’s Detective Somerset, and he knows just when to pit the actors against one another, and when to bring them together. Se7en processes genre concepts and elevates them, and stands as a top-notch example of what can be achieved with a detective thriller.

After the jump we conclude our ranking of David Fincher’s filmography with the top three films. Which movie ranks #1? Find out.

Continue Reading The Films of David Fincher Ranked>>

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