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David Fincher, A Career in the Shadows

By Bert Ehrmann

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Fort Wayne Reader

2007-03-07


You may not recognize the name David Fincher, but I can almost guarantee that you've seen at least one of the movies he's directed. Though Fincher started his career overseeing music videos in the late 1980s and early 1990s, many consider several of the feature films heís directed since, me included, as modern-masterpieces.

David Fincher's feature film career began with the third film of the Alien franchise entitled Alien 3 (1992). The first two films of the series, Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986), are widely considered classics in the sci-fi genera and when Fincher began Alien 3, there was intense pressure to deliver a product equal to the previous two installments. But even before Fincher became involved with Alien 3 the movie was already troubled. Two different directors had already come and gone and ten different scripts were all written and rejected for the film before Fincher had signed on as director.

Alien 3 takes place on a prison colony located on a far-off planet where the convicts have begun acting as a weird sect of monk. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), last survivor of the first two films, finds herself marooned and the only female on this planet with a stowaway Alien loose in the prison. Though the visuals of Alien 3 are interesting, overall the movie never quite gels and the last act seems truncated and confusing.

What saved Fincher's career from being undeservedly remembered as "the guy who screwed up the Alien franchise" was his next film Se7en (1995). In Se7en, a serial killer (Kevin Spacey) stalks an unnamed, rain-drenched city eliminating those who ignore the biblical "seven deadly sins." Detectives Mills and Somerset (Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman respectively) try to track the killer down before he can complete his disturbing task.

The last ten minutes of Se7en are unforgettable when Mills and Somerset find themselves played by the killer, alone in the desert with a box. And there's something that's not quite right about that box. The ramifications of Se7en can be felt to this day in copycat movies like Saw.

Fincher followed Se7en with The Game in 1997. Michael Douglas plays Nicolas Van Orton, a power broker whose life is turned upside down after he receives a birthday present from his brother. This present turns out to be a game played "live-action" on the streets of San Francisco, except this seemingly harmless game turns deadly when Orton realizes that this all might be a ruse by the other players to steal Orton's life away from him.

The first time I saw Fight Club (1999) I was forever hooked on films. Based on the book of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club is a trippy journey through the mind of yuppie "The Narrator" (Edward Norton) who meets up with eccentric soap-salesman Tyler Durdon (Brad Pitt again) turned pain aficionado. Fight Club is almost too difficult to describe. It's a movie that features an underground fight club movement of men that morphs into a terrorist organization bent on overturning the status quo. Oh, and Fight Club features soap, nice creamy soap.

Fight Club sits somewhere on my list of the best movies of all time. It's a movie that's so good it hurts.

Panic Room followed Fight Club in 2002. In Panic Room, single mom (Jodie Foster) and daughter find their newly purchased home besieged by robbers looking for bearer bonds left behind by the previous deceased owner. The twist is that although the mother and daughter find themselves safe within the walls of the fortified "panic room" inside the home, that's where the bearer bonds are hidden and the thieves aren't going anywhere without getting inside.

Fincher's latest movie, Zodiac, is due in theaters March 2. Zodiac follows the real "Zodiac Killer" serial killer who stalked California in the late 1960s killing five in his bloody rampage. Zodiac sent a series of letters to various San Francisco newspapers during his spree, some of which included coded messages within. Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. play reporters on the trailer of the killer with two police officers (Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards) also out to ensnare the bad-guy.

Knowing Fincherís track record with movies, Zodiac is bound to be interesting at the worst or mind-expanding at the best. E-mail me at words@dangerousuniverse.com.

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