(On Cable TV, August 2015) While I like director David Fincher’s first movies more than his last few ones (Seven, The Game and Fight Club are classics; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo remake less so), the world at large seems to disagree, his stature having grown steadily since the beginning of his career. With Gone Girl, though, it looks as if I’m re-joining the critical consensus: It’s a terrific thriller, unsentimental and merciless with a lot of depth along the way. It starts innocently enough, as a man reports the suspicious disappearance of his wife. As the plot unspools, twists appear. Many twists, eventually leaving characters as aghast as viewers. Saying more would be a disservice, except to praise both Ben Affleck and especially Rosamund Pike for performances that play off their existing persona (in Affleck’s case) or their lack of it (in Pike’s case). Fincher directs the film with quasi-alien precision, which feels just about right when Gone Girl reveals itself to be an acid commentary on marriage. A genre-aware script by Gillian Flynn (based on her own novel) makes Gone Girl a terrific thriller, but nearly everyone involved in the film bring their best work: In smaller roles, Tyler Perry delivers a memorable turn as a mesmerizing defense lawyer, while Carrie Coon transforms a small confidante role into something far more interesting. Still, it’s director Fincher who remains the star of the show, effectively presenting his set-pieces with a lot of technical polish. Gone Girl may not be a pleasant film, but it’s almost impossible to stop watching from its intriguing opening to its nightmarish conclusion. It’s just not (really not) a date movie.
(In theaters, December 2011) Trying to review this film on its own is impossible given how recently I have read the Stieg Larsson book and seen the Swedish film adaptation. It also doesn’t help that the American version seems so intent on faithfully adapting the book and taking its cues from the previous film: There’s no denying that the American version is good, but it’s so similar that the tendency is to focus on the areas of difference. (Amazingly enough, through, the American version is 100% as Swedish as it’s ever been, taking place in Sweden with Swedish characters to the point of having the actors play with slight Swedish accents.) Budget certainly makes a difference: Where the Swedish version had a scene at Millennium magazine with half a dozen staffers, the American version has the feel of a working magazine office. Where the Swedish version held its outdoors scenes to a minimum, the American version indulges in scene-setting. But don’t assume that all the edges have been filed away in an attempt to be audience-friendly: There is a least as much crude violence here, and perhaps a bit more nudity. The bleak coda of the book has been kept over the Swedish film’s more hopeful finale, even as an expensive side-trip during the Swedish conclusion has been pared back for the American one. Director David Fincher is a smart filmmaker, but even his talent and experience doesn’t seem to add all that much to this adaptation when compared to the Swedish one. At least, there’s no arguing about the main casting is correct: Daniel Craig makes for a good Mikael Blomvkist, whereas Mara Rooney is almost as good as Noomi Rapace as Lizbeth Salander. While the end result has a few flaws in pacing, most of them can be attributed to the book itself rather than any special flaw in the adaptation (which does dispense with some extraneous material, such as the carnal relationship between Blomvkist and one of the Vengers) The main question about the film isn’t as much “Is it good?” as “Why does it exist?” The Swedish version was good, but the American version isn’t that much better to justify having a director like David Fincher work-for-hire on it. At some point; why bother? Still, it may be best to focus on the idea that, for once, the American version is just as respectable as its foreign counterpart. Small comfort, but we might as well take what we get.
(In theaters, October 2010) I will admit my scepticism regarding the idea of this film. A drama about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook’s early days? Why would David Fincher waste his time doing that? Granted, I find Facebook more interesting as a socio-technological phenomenon than as the hub of my online life, but still: Isn’t it a bit early to start making films about such a trivial subject? What I should have figured out is that five years ago is forever in Internet time, that Fincher knew what he was doing and that there was an interesting story at the heart of it all. Very loosely based on Ben Mezrich’s docu-fictive The Accidental Billionaires, The Social Network does manage to tell a compelling drama in an entertaining way and even comment on a few contemporary issues along the way. The heart of the piece is in the story of how intellectual arrogance and runaway success can ruin friendships, but the real delight of The Social Network is in the ever-compelling script penned by Aaron Sorkin, from a fast-paced first dialogue that sets the tone, to a structure that jumps back in forth in time (the latter chronology being nowhere in the book), to the clever weaving of themes between old-school social clubs and new-style social media. As an acknowledged nerd, I was stuck at the picture’s fairly accurate portrait of how some very smart people behave, as well as the accuracy of some technical details early in the film. Fincher’s direction may be less visually polished here than in his other film, but it’s effective and coherent: this is a solid drama, and it deserves a flat and grainy picture. (The film’s most striking bit of visual polish, at a regatta, echoes the miniature-faking tilt-shift focus meme that briefly fascinated internet photographers a while back.) The Social Network also benefits from a number of striking performances, from Jesse Eisenberg’s deliberately stunted portrait of Zuckerberg to Justin Timberlake’s magnetic Sean Parker to Armie Hammer’s Winklevii. Part of the appeal is seeing high-powered people interacting (the script uses a “that’s the famous person” joke at least twice to good effect.) in ways that are at least plausibly based on reality. It all amounts to a film that’s quite a bit better than the sum of its parts would suggest –true moviemaking alchemy that leaves viewers wondering how and why it all worked so well.