Tag: David Fincher

Fight Club (1999)

Fight Club (1999)

Hugely popular, I find it widely misunderstood but also a little too in love with its own cleverness

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Edward Norton (The Narrator), Brad Pitt (Tyler Durden), Helena Bonham Carter (Marla Singer), Meat Loaf (Robert Paulson), Jared Leto (Angel Face), Holt McCallany (Mechanic), Zach Grenier (Richard Chessler), Eion Bailey (Ricky), Peter Lacangelo (Lou), Thom Gossom Jnr (Detective Stern)

When Fight Club was made, the studio didn’t get it. You can’t blame them. Studio suits sat down and just couldn’t understand what on earth this primal cry of anger, giving voice to the disillusioned and dispossessed, was going on about. Fight Club was categorically not for them. I’d managed to miss it for decades, so it’s an odd experience watching this angry millennial film for the first time when I’m now exactly the sort of punch-clock office drone its characters despised. I think I missed the boat.

Our narrator (Edward Norton) is cynical, bored and feels his life is going nowhere. Suffering from crippling insomnia, he takes to attending support groups for various terminal illness survivors, releasing his own ennui among the pain there. It’s where he meets fellow ‘suffering tourist’, Marla (Helena Bonham Carter), whom he’s attracted to while resenting her intrusion on his own private therapy. Shortly after he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a charismatic rebel with whom he founds an underground bare-knuckle fight group for men who can’t express themselves in the modern world. But Durden’s charismatic, anti-corporatist rhetoric tips more and more into radicalism and he starts an affair with Marla. What will our Narrator do?

Sometimes I think Fight Club might be one of the most misunderstood films ever. So many people who have fallen in love with it talk about it being an attack on conformity in our cold modern world. Of its celebration of people leaving the oppressive, mindless 9-5 grind to find something true and real that makes them feel alive. To be fair, Fight Club is partly this. But how do our heroes do this? By starting a cult where the bitter, resentful and inadequate search for meaning through violence and becoming part of a monolithic organisation that bans independent thought. Essentially, it’s a cult movie, exploring what makes people who can’t relate to the monotony of the “real life”, embrace an oppressive set of rules simply because those rules make them feel important.

This misreading by many is a tribute to the brilliance of Fincher’s direction. Fincher’s film is radical, sexy, pulsating and exciting. It’s shot like a mix of music video and experimental feature and crammed with cutting, witty lines that skewer and puncture the ”grown up” ideas that so many find weary and tiresome. It’s a modern Catcher in the Rye and it pours all its functional, dynamically written anti-establishment rhetoric into the mouth of one of the world’s most charismatic stars in Brad Pitt and allows him to let rip.

Fincher’s Fight Club is really, to me, about the intoxicating excitement of anger, of how easy it is to pour your frustrations into actions that are destructive and selfish but which you can invest with a higher meaning. School shooters, incels – many of them see themselves as stars in their own Fight Clubs, as cool anti-establishment rebels who see some higher truth beyond the rest of us. Fight Club is a brilliantly staged exposure of how this mindset is created and how damn attractive it can be.

Because when Pitt lets rip with this mantra on finding truth and purpose, turning your back on Ikea and Starbucks and all the other soulless “stuff” people find important, you want to stand up and cheer with him. You can see that the attraction of forming a secret brotherhood with a series of other similarly frustrated men, who feel emasculated and purposeless in a world where they can’t do something meaningful like fight Nazis or hunt deer. How they could find satisfaction and a sense of masculine validation in punching seven shades of shit out of each other. Because, as the adrenalin and the blood flows, and the teeth go flying, you feel alive.

It’s certainly a lot more fun than trying to actually deal with your problems. Fight Club is really about this sort of toxic, masculine anger and bitterness leads us to fail to deal with our problems. The Narrator needs Durden, because he can’t manage to process his own feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. He can’t deal with ennui – except through a constant stream of cynical, privately spoken, bitter remarks – and when he meets a girl he likes, he can’t cope with that either.

Durden comes into his life straight after Marla does, and Durden does everything with Marla the Narrator can’t. He flirts with, impresses and fucks her. That’s the sort of thing the Narrator (literally) can only dream about doing. The film builds towards the Narrator realising that, by embracing Durden, he is denying himself the possibility of something real with an actual kindred spirit (screwed up as Marla is, she has decency and empathy). Fight Club – much as many of its fans who find the final act “disappointing” don’t want to admit it – is about putting away childish resentments and growing up. Even if the Narrator is culpable for the things Durden does – and only threats to Marla awaken his acknowledgement that he should do something – he recognises the aimless, irresponsible and dangerous anger of Durden is not healthy.

Because Fight Club centralises a group of terrorists who tell themselves they are plucky anarchists who don’t want to hurt anyone – but we know it never stops there. Especially when you have a mesmeric, Hitlerish figure like Durden driving people on. Pitt is superb as this raving id monster, a hypnotic natural leader who delivers rhetorical flourishes with such intense and utter belief he essentially brainwashes a legion of men into following his orders without question – acid burns, bombs and death don’t even make them blink, just even more willing to follow his orders.

Fincher works so hard to make us understand the attraction of all this that sometimes Fight Club – with its flash filtered look set in a nearly perpetual night – is more than a little pleased with its impish menace. It also takes a little too much delight in teasing its infamous twist – it’s a little too delighted with the “ah but when you watch it back” ingeniousness with which it presents a melange of scenes (the twist also makes you realise later just how brainwashed and dangerous the men in this cult must be, once we realise what they saw and how little they reacted to it). Fight Club also, for all its cool lines and winning gags, has an air of pop psychology to it. (I am very willing to overlook its cheap anarcho-socialism as we are very clearly invited to see this as empty nonsense – for all many people watching the film don’t.)

Edward Norton is extremely good in a challenging role, a stunted and bitter dweeb who dreams of being a player and barrels along with ever more dangerous events. He walks a fine line between a sheltered follower and true acolyte, in several moments showing more than a flash of Durden’s ballsy, take-no-chances, sadism-tinged determination when you least expect it. It’s the sort of performance designed to make sense in the whole, not in the moment – and on that score it’s exquisite. He also makes a wonderful pairing with Helena Bonham Carter, exploding her bonnet reputation with a part that’s rough-edged, unpredictable but surprisingly humane and vulnerable.

Is Fight Club a masterpiece? I’m not sure. It’s a very clever, sharp and dynamic piece of film-making designed to pull the wool over your eyes (in more ways than one). But it can also be overly pleased with itself and does such a superb job of getting you to empathise with the deluded and violent that when it gear changes in the final act it never quite lands as it should. It feels like an angry teenager’s idea of the greatest film ever made (and you can’t deny it digs into the same “loner who sees the deeper truth” vibe that helped make The Matrix a phenomenon later that year). It’s Fincher at his young, punk best – and maybe Fight Club got all this out of his system (you can’t believe the same man made this and Curious Case of Benjamin Button), but for me it lives in the shadow of Fincher’s dark and dangerous Seven, a film which explores similar themes but with more humanity and greater depth than Fight Club.

Zodiac (2007)

Zodiac (2007)

A chilling chronicle of the hunt for a serial killer told with a superb mix of journalism and filmic flair

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal (Robert Graysmith), Mark Ruffalo (Inspector Dave Toschi), Robert Downey Jnr (Paul Avery), Anthony Edwards (Inspector Bill Armstrong), Brian Cox (Melvin Belli), Elias Koteas (Sergeant Jack Mulanax), Donal Logue (Captain Ken Narlow), John Carroll Lynch (Arthur Leigh Allen), Dermot Mulroney (Captain Marty Lee), Chloë Sevingy (Melanie Graysmith), John Terry (Charles Thieriot), Philip Baker Hall (Sherwood Morrill), Zach Grenier (Mel Nicolai)

It’s one of the great unsolved mysteries of American history, like San Francisco’s version of Jack the Ripper. For a large chunk of the late 60s and early 70s, a serial killer known only as “the Zodiac killer” murdered at least five (and claimed 37) innocent people, all while sending mysterious, cipher-filled letters to San Francisco newspapers, taunting police and journalists for failing to catch him and threatening further violent acts. The investigation sifted through mountains of tips and half clues but only produced one possible suspect, Arthur Leigh Allen: though no fingerprint or handwriting match could conclude a case.

The story of the hunt for this elusive killer, stretching into the 1980s and concluding with another dead-end coda in 1992, is bought to the screen in a film from David Fincher that expertly mixes cinematic flair with journalistic observation. Channelling All the President’s Men and 70s conspiracy thrillers as much as it does the dark obsession of Fincher’s Seven, Zodiac is a master-class not only in the bewildering detail of large-scale investigations (in the days before computer records and DNA evidence) but also the grinding, destructive qualities of obsession, as those hunting the Zodiac killer struggle to escape the shadow of a case that grows to dominate their lives.

Zodiac focuses on three men, all of whom find their lives irretrievably damaged by their investigation. At first, it seems the drive will come from Robert Downey Jnr’s Paul Avery. Avery is the hard-drinking, charismatic, old-school crime correspondent on the San Francisco Chronicle. In a performance exactly the right-side of flamboyant narcissism, Downey Jnr’s Avery is a man who likes to appear like he takes nothing seriously, even while the burden of the case (and a threat to his life from the Zodiac killer) tips him even further into a drink habit that is going to leave him living in a derelict houseboat, in a permanent state of vodka-induced intoxication.

The second is Inspector Dave Tosci, a performance of dogged, focused professionalism from Mark Ruffalo. He’s confident he’ll find his man, and will go to any lengths to do it, staying on call night and day, and hoarding facts about the case like a miser. He relies more than he knows on level-headed, decent partner Bill Armstrong (played with real warmth by Anthony Edwards). Tosci’s self-image and belief slowly crumble as every lead turns dead end, every gut instinct refuses to be backed by the evidence. The killing spree becomes his personal responsibility, a cross he bears alone for so long that when a belated letter from Zodiac surfaces in 1978, his own superiors believe Tosci sent it in some vain attempt to keep a cooling case alive.

Our third protagonist, present from the arrival of the very first Zodiac letter at the door of the Chronicle, is Jake Gyllenhaal’s Robert Graysmith. A quiet, studious, teetotal political cartoonist who is literally a boy scout, Graysmith spent a huge chunk of the 70s and 80s trying to crack the case, eventually turning his investigation into a best-selling book. It’s Graysmith who becomes the focus of Fincher’s investigation of obsession. The glow of monomania is in Gyllenhaal’s eyes from the very start, as the cipher and its deadly message spark a mix of curiosity and moral duty in him. He feels compelled to solve the crime, but it’s a compulsion that will overwhelm his life. The Zodiac is his Moby Dick, the all-powerful monster he must slay to save the city. (“Bobby, you almost look disappointed” Avery tells him, when Avery suggests some of the Zodiac’s murderous claims are false, as if reducing the wickedness of the Zodiac also reduces the power of Graysmith’s quest.)

The real Graysmith commented when he saw the film, “I understand why my wife left me”. It’s a superb performance of school-boy doggedness, mixed with quietly fanatical, all-consuming obsession from Gyllenhaal, as the film makes clear how close he came (closer than almost anyone else) to cracking the case, but nearly at the cost of his own sanity. Graysmith pop quizzes his pre-teen children on the case over their breakfast (a far cry from, at first, his instinct to shield his son from the press coverage) and as he becomes increasingly unkempt, so his house more and more becomes a mountain of boxes and case notes.

It’s the secondary theme of Zodiac: how obsession doesn’t dim, even when events and evidence drop off. The second half of the film features very little new in the case (which peaked in the early 70s) but focuses on the lingering impact of the ever more desperate and lonely attempts to solve it. Armstrong, the most well-adjusted of the characters, perhaps knew it was a hopeless crusade when he threw his cards in and left the table after a few years to spend time with his children while they grew up. Avery cashes out as well – even if his health never recovers. Tosci is cashiered from the game, and even Graysmith finally realises the impact on him.

That second half of the film is long. Too long. It also, naturally, leaves us with no ending – a sad coda that hints at the guilt of primary (only) suspect Arthur Leigh Allen, but gives us (just like the surviving victims) no closure. It’s fitting, and deliberate, but still the only real flaw of Zodiac is that, at 150 minutes, it’s too long. The deliberate draining of life from the case, like a deflating balloon, also impacts the narrative, which consciously drops in intensity (and, to a degree, interest – despite Gyllenhaal’s subtle and complex work as Graysmith). It’s even more noticeable considering the compelling flair with which Fincher delivers the first half of his scrupulously researched film.

Fincher and screenwriter James Vanderbilt spent almost 18 months interviewing everyone involved with the case. Nothing was included in the film unless it could be verified by witnesses. That included the crimes of the Zodiac: only attacks where there were survivors are shown, the only minor exception being Zodiac’s murder of a taxi driver (where only distant eye-witnesses were available) – even then, every event is confirmed by ballistics and no dialogue is placed into the mouth of the victim. The film also acknowledges the unknown nature of the Zodiac killer: each time the masked killer appears in recreations of his crime he is played by a different (masked) actor, subtle differences in build, tone of voice and manner reflecting the contradictory eye-witness statements. These chilling scenes are shot with a sensitivity that sits alongside their horrifying brutality. Fincher felt a genuine responsibility to reflect the horror of what happened, but with no sensationalism.

Instead, he keeps his virtuoso brilliance for the investigation. The newspaper room filling with the super-imposed scrawl of the Zodiac killer, while the actors read out the words. Restrained but hypnotic editing, carefully grimed photography, camera angles that present everyday items in alarming new ways, a mounting sense of grim tension at several moments that makes the film hard to watch. A superb sequence surrounding the Zodiac’s demand to speak to celebrity lawyer Melvin Belli (a gorgeous cameo from Brian Cox), first on a live TV call-in show, then in person (a “secret meeting” swamped by armed police, which Zodiac, of course, doesn’t turn up to). This is direction – aided by masterful photography (Harris Savides) and editing (Angus Wall) – that immerses us in a world (like drowning in a non-fiction bestseller), while never letting its flair draw attention to itself.

Zodiac was a box-office disappointment and roundly forgotten in 2007. It’s too long and loses energy, but that’s bizarrely the point. It implies, heavily, that Allen (played with a smug blankness by John Carroll Lynch) was indeed the killer, but doesn’t stack the deck – every single piece of counter evidence is exhaustingly shown. In fact, that’s what the film is: exhaustive in every sense. It leaves you reeling and tired. It might well have worked better, in many ways, as a mini-series. But it’s still a masterclass from Fincher and one of the most honest, studiously researched and respectful true-life crime dramas ever made. And just like life, it offers neither easy answers, obvious heroes or clean-cut resolutions, only doubts and lingering regrets.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Ageing, romance and sentiment in Fincher’s handsome shaggy dog story

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Brad Pitt (Benjamin Button), Cate Blanchett (Daisy Fuller), Taraji P Henson (Queenie), Julia Ormond (Caroline Button), Jason Flemyng (Thomas Button), Elias Koteas (Monsieur Gateau), Tilda Swinton (Elizabeth Abbott), Mahershala Ali (Tizzy Weathers), Jared Harris (Captain Mike Clark)

As the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 strikes, a baby boy is born. A baby boy unlike any other, with the appearance and illnesses of a very old man. Discarded by his horrified father (Jason Flemyng), the boy is adopted by Queenie (Taraji P Henson), caretaker of a nursing home. There it becomes clear he is growing backwards: the older he gets, the younger he appears. Young Benjamin will eventually grow into Brad Pitt and spend his life watching those around him grow ever older as he grows ever younger. Most joyful, and painful, of all being his childhood friend Daisy (Cate Blanchett), the woman he will love his whole life.

Fincher’s film is a strange beast. A huge technical triumph, that uses cutting edge special effects and astonishing make-up to age – in both directions – Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett throughout the course of the film (both taken from extreme old age to face-lifted youth), it’s also a whimsical shaggy dog story with elements of a fairy tale that does very little with its astonishing concept other than pepper the script with easily digestible homilies about the purity of the simple life, as if screenwriter Eric Roth was still gorging on the same box of chocolates from which he plucked Forrest Gump.

TCCoBB has a lot going for it: you can see why it was coated with technical Oscars. The ageing and deageing special effects are skilfully and even subtly done, the recreation of a host of periods – from the 1910s to the 1990s and beyond – flawlessly detailed. Claudio Miranda’s photography uses a host of film stocks – from sepia, to scratchy home movie footage style, to luscious technicolour beauty – to reflect time and era constantly. The assemblage of the film has been invested with huge care and attention and, despite its great length, Fincher cuts together (with Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall) an episodic film that manages to keep its momentum and drive going.

Also, it’s a far less vomit-inducing spectacle than the manipulative stylings that coat Forrest Gump. This is in part to Brad Pitt’s restrained and contemplative performance in the lead role: Pitt underplays with surprising effectiveness, capturing Benjamin’s “come what may” attitude and eagerness to go with the flow of the opportunities life offers him. He delivers the narration with an authority just the right side of portentous (for all his rather flat, uninteresting voice) and skilfully manages to invest his body with a physicality quite contrary to his physical appearance (his old body moves with a young man’s casualness, while his younger form carries a slightly world-weary hesitancy).

Benjamin’s mantra becomes one of living your life just as suits you best, not as others expect you to and never worrying about leaving it too late to take chances or make changes. Or at least something like that. To be honest, the weakest part by far of TCCoBB is the lightness and breeziness of its thematic impact. I’ve seen this film three times and, other than a slightly charming shaggy dog story, I’m not quite sure what point it is trying to make – other than straining for a star-cross’d romantic sadness.

This feels like a missed opportunity because there is so much that could be explored here. The film is a nearly unique opportunity to explore how much age – either physical or mental – defines us. A chance to see how our perceptions of a person are shaped as much by what they look like or how they sound, as by who they are. What sort of different perspective on humanity might Benjamin have? How might those around him evaluate, their own lives as they see this him getting younger?

Questions such as these are not touched, the film settling for Benjamin’s whimsical, first-do-no-harm philosophy crossed with a sort of saintly non-interference. The closest it gets to dealing with this is in Benjamin’s friendship and later relationship with Daisy. Old/young Benjamin is told off by Daisy’s grandmother for being a dirty old man, when they first met as children (or old man in his case). Later their lives will drift together and apart, until they form a relationship when both are “the same age” physically. But the film shirks really exploring the implications of this – and outright flees the idea of Benjamin as an increasingly younger man in a romantic relationship with an increasingly older Daisy.

Instead, it settles all too often for easy lessons, comforting parables and charming little vignettes. Benjamin grows up cared for by his adopted mother Queenie (an engaging, if straight forward, performance by Taraji P Henson) – but in the sort of 1920s New Orleans where a racial epithet is never even whispered. He travels the world with Jared Harris’ (rather good) salty sea-dog, falling in love briefly with Tilda Swinton’s lonely champion swimmer turned society wife. He reconnects happily with his father (after all it’s much easier to live a life of free choice if you are the heir to a massive button factory empire). Idyllic 1960s love hits Daisy and Benjamin – a brief shot of a cruise missile taking off is the only reference to those troubled times we see.

It’s all very easy, romantically toned, sweet and easily digestible. Even writing it down highlights how these are charming, eccentrically tinged, vignettes. All events and experiences come together with a vague “lessons learned” impact, as old Benjamin regresses into a teenager, a child and then an infant. But it could have been so much more. A real study of what makes us human, a real look at how events and perspectives define us. It isn’t. Heck, other than watching Pitt travel handsomely around the world on a motorbike in a late montage, we don’t really get much of a sense of how being young/old may impact him.

Which isn’t to say it’s not enjoyable. It all proceeds with a great deal of charm and love, much of which has clearly been invested in every inch of its making. The acting from (and chemistry between) Pitt and Blanchett is very effective. But it feels like a slightly missed opportunity, a film that settles for being a warm, reassuring cuddle when it could have sat you down and helped you understand your life. For all its slight air of importance, it’s a crowd-pleasing, if slightly sentimental, film.

The Social Network (2010)

Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg bring the making of Facebook to life in Fincher’s modern American classic

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg (Mark Zuckerberg), Andrew Garfield (Eduardo Saverin), Justin Timberlake (Sean Parker), Armie Hammer (Cameron Winklevoss/Tyler Winklevoss), Max Minghella (Divya Narendra), Brenda Song (Christy Lee), Rashida Jones (Marilyn Delpy), Joseph Mazzello (Dustin Moskovitz), Rooney Mara (Erica Albright), John Getz (Sy), David Selby (Gage)

Nothing has changed our interaction with the world faster than the internet. And nothing on the internet has changed how we interact as much as social media. As it drives changes in the way we relate to other people, it’s a brave film that tries to capture this zeitgeist and turn it into an effective movie. The Social Network is a brave movie – and also a brilliant one, a defiantly modern and far-sighted movie that avoids being the sanctimonious message movie it could have become, by concentrating on personal relationships, drama and, above all, a strong and compelling story.

Its October 2003 and a 19-year old Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) gets dumped by his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara). So, he responds like many people today would – but not in 2003 – by writing a series of rude and angry blogs about her. And at the same time, he does something you and I wouldn’t be able to do – he builds overnight a campus website called Facemash that allows users to rate the attractiveness of female students. It’s a sensation – and a scandal.

Off the back of it, Zuckerberg is approached by the Winklevoss brothers (in a skilled double performance by Armie Hammer) to see if he’d be interested in building an elite social network, Harvard Connection, for them. Zuckerberg agrees – but did he independently already have the idea for Thefacebook, an elite social network for Ivy League students? Either way, with funds from friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) he builds the platform which is to become Facebook. Does it all end well? Since the story is framed around Zuckerberg in 2009, sitting in depositions while being sued by both the Winkelvoss brothers (“the Winklevi”) and Saverin, you can guess not.

Fincher’s film reflects its central character in many ways – cool, efficient, tightly wound, juggling intellectualism with simmering tension. It’s vibrant, fresh, razor-sharp, perfectly paced and superbly dramatic. It turns what could have been a terrifically dull story of very clever people typing lines of code into a whipper-sharp story of jealousies, rivalries and suspicions. It also brilliantly veers away from being a polemic. It could easily have made points – as many films have – about the “evils and dangers of that creepy thing the internet” or constantly reminded us how morally superior film-makers are to social media kingpins. It does nothing of the sort. Instead it’s a brilliantly insightful look at the birth of a phenomenon that also makes subtle, intelligent points about some of the behaviours that phenomenon led to. All while keeping us gloriously entertained.

A big part of the film’s success is in Sorkin’s superb script. The material is perfect for him. The character’s intellectualism fits with his pithy turn of phrase, while their perceptions of themselves as victims or on a moral crusade fits with his ability to write morality with empathy. It also helps that he is the master of crackling dialogue. The idea to structure the film around the depositions is also a master-stroke. Not just a reminder of what’s to come, it adds an air of artificiality to everything we see (perfect as well for Sorkin’s smarter-than-life dialogue) – after all, each scene is based on the filtered remembrances of people in the depositions. And all of them remember a subtly different story.

Sorkin and Fincher also manage to avoid having villains in play. It would be easy to make Zuckerberg a villain: many films would have done. But Zuckerberg here isn’t bad – it’s more that he’s tunnel-visioned, selfish and socially inept. Erica (a marvellous turn by Rooney Mara as the first victim of social media bullying) has a point when she says she dumping him not because he’s a geek but because he’s not really a nice person. But Zuckerberg’s actions – his betrayals as some read them – come not from vindictiveness but a shark-like moving forward that leaves people behind him. And he’s also, as the film is keen to show repeatedly, lonely. He has one friend – whom he sacrifices on the altar of his creation – and is ruthless at cutting people out of his life when they fail to meet the standards he has set them.

The film channels the skills of Eisenberg – whose range is not huge – perfectly here, in a role he was surely born to play. Eisenberg crafts his physicality in something hunched, oppressed and sullen while his flat voice is perfect for a man who expresses himself through his creation not his personality. He gives Zuckerberg both a ruthlessness, but also a strange lack of knowledge – constantly surprised that his actions have consequences that leave him alone. He makes him a true lonely god of the internet – the man who invented the biggest social networking centre in the world, but who doesn’t have a friend himself.

But it also makes clear that Zuckerberg lacks the usual flaws of his kind: he’s not interested, it seems, in money, riches, fame or drugs. To him, the prize is to do not to be seen to do. He makes a rich contrast with Sean Parker (a brilliantly charismatic Justin Timberlake), the creator of Napster, who briefly influences him but is primarily interested in the flash and bang that the retiring Zuckerberg isn’t. What he does have is the drive and ruthlessness that his friend Eduardo Saverin (a wonderful performance from Andrew Garfield as a marvellously sweet, but clearly naïve and out-of-his-depth man completely lacking the vision a project like Facebook needs) doesn’t have – and which makes Saverin unsuitable for thinking in the global terms Zuckerberg is.

And the film has little time for the Winklevoss twins. Played with chutzpah in a double role by Armie Hammer (who skilfully distinguishes both of them), Zuckerberg is right when he describes them as rich kids who had everything they ever wanted in life – and seem outraged that they can’t be given the rights to Facebook as well. As he points out they intended to do nothing other than come up with a concept. These rowers – in a witty touch their boat is sponsored by that dinosaur Polaroid – also represent the old elite under siege from new media. The entitled rich, who can’t comprehend that the world is being handed to them on a plate.

The film also makes for an intriguing meta-commentary on the growth of social media. From the trolling of Erica, through the bitter feuds and arguments, the he-said-she-said fighting of the depositions, and the quick shifts between friendship and rivalry, it also manages to capture the world of social media in a nutshell. The atmosphere where actions can explode in people’s perception, where statements you made years ago come back to bite you, where judgement and criticism are constant and the ability to communicate more easily also makes fights easier to start, seem more and more prescient.

Fincher’s film does this marvellously, with a wit and sense of dramatic flair that reminds me of a more grounded Network. Sure the scene at Henley-on-Thames is hand-in-the-mouth agonising for any British person to watch (it is littered with major errors from turn-of-phrase to its understanding of life in Britain), but when every other scene in it is perfectly done it doesn’t matter. Like any victory, Facebook has many people claiming to be its father. You could say the film about this film: superbly directed, a brilliant script and perfectly cast, it’s a triumph.

Mank (2020)

Mank header
Gary Oldman excels as Herman J Mankiewicz in David Fincher’s bitter Hollywood epic Mank

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Gary Oldman (Herman J Mankiewicz), Amanda Seyfried (Marion Davies), Lily Collins (Rita Alexander), Arliss Howard (Louis B Mayer), Tom Pelphrey (Joseph L Mankiewicz), Charles Dance (William Randolph Hearst), Sam Troughton (John Houseman), Ferdinand Kingsley (Louis B Mayer), Tuppence Middleton (Sara Mankiewicz), Tom Burke (Orson Welles), Joseph Cross (Charles Lederer), Jamie McShane (Shelly Metcalfe), Toby Leonard Moore (David O Selznick)

It’s 80 years old, but age has not withered Citizen Kane’s mystique, still one of the greatest films ever made. The story of its creation has intrigued generations, a fascination only increased by the larger-than-life personalities involved, from Orson Welles down. David Fincher’s lovingly made, but bitingly shrewd deconstruction of classic Hollywood, explores the creation of the film by focusing on its credited co-writer Herman J Mankiewicz, the film neatly intercutting between the alcoholic Mankiewicz drafting the screenplay while in enforced retreat and his prime years as a writer-for-hire to the major Hollywood studios of the 1930s.

Mankiewicz is played by Gary Oldman (at 62, already seven years older than Mankiewicz was when he died). A noted wit, Mankiewicz makes an excellent living running the writers’ room at Louis B Mayer’s (Arliss Howard) MGM. Mankiewicz views the work of writing films as slightly beneath him, easy money (“Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots” he cables Ben Hecht). Mankiewicz’s sociability eventually finds him an informal role as “court jester” to newspaper tycoon (and MGM bank roller) William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and he builds a warm friendship with Heart’s shrewd mistress, actress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried). The relationship sours as Mankiewicz grows disgusted by the dirty tricks campaign MGM and Hearst launch against the left-wing candidate for governor in 1936. In 1939 Mankiewicz works on the script for Citizen Kane, hired by Orson Welles (Tom Burke) with the support of an assistant Rita (Lily Collins) who helps him craft the words and stay sober long enough to type them.

Fincher’s film can easily be seen as a loving homage to old-school Hollywood. Certainly, Fincher fully embraces 30s filming style. From the carefully crafted period credits to the slightly distorted sound that apes the echoey on-set recording of classic Hollywood, this is a technical masterpiece. Beautifully shot in a series of sultry black-and-white images, with several visual references to Citizen Kane, it looks simply marvellous. The musical score is a brilliant mixture of Herrmannesque and classic Hollywood symphonic music with an edge. Even the casting has a slight old-school Hollywood unreality about it, from Oldman being at least 30 years too old to Amanda Seyfried being too young. Fincher embraces every flourish and stylistic tic from the Golden Era of Hollywood.

But the film is about as far as you can get from rose-tinted glasses. Instead this is a vicious, angry, look at Hollywood’s corruption, that owes as much to Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. Hollywood is a carnival of greed and abuse of power, where art takes a second seat to cold hard cash (“This is a business where the buyer gets nothing for his money but a memory. What he bought still belongs to the man who sold it. That’s the real magic of the movies!” Louis B Mayer exclaims). Power is abused, lies are peddled to the public (Upton Sinclair, the Democratic candidate for governor, is subtly savaged by MGM-propaganda films) and the rich shamelessly steal from the rest.

The film doesn’t give a pass to the “talent” either. Mankiewicz and his writers’ room – a who’s who of greats, from Ben Hecht to George S Kaufman, SJ Perelman and Charles MacArthur – are blasé and spend as much time playing cards and seducing broads as they do scribbling ideas. Mankiewicz sets the tone, a super-smart wordsmith who thinks the movies are a joke and never invests himself in any of his work, happy to simply pick up a pay cheque. Mankiewicz doesn’t care about the quality and completely misses (or doesn’t even understand or care about) the power of movies. Anyway, his judgement is terrible, denouncing The Wizard of Oz as an epic disaster in waiting and never bothering to ensure he receives credit.

Oldman perfectly captures the shambling, slightly rotund and scruffy disdain of Mankiewicz, as well as brilliantly suggesting that the booze and cigarettes are an aid to forget his own disgust and self-loathing. With Oldman’s verbal dexterity triumphant (Mankiewicz actually carries more than a few echoes of his Winston Churchill), Mankiewicz’s real gift (and reason for living) is clubability and a skill at getting on with everyone. He’s the ultimate insider in a profession he thinks is an unworthy joke. It’s what gives him the ability to drop perfectly formed, biting bon mots at the drop of the hat – and this devil-may-care attitude amuses William Randolph Hearst (a chillingly still and powerful Charles Dance who can turn from congenial to menacing in a moment).

It’s also what wins the friendship of Marion Davies, who Mankiewicz recognises as a kindred spirit, a woman of intelligence and sensitivity, playing a role in an industry she holds in uncertain affection. This is career best work from Amanda Seyfried, giving Marion intelligence and a touching vulnerability. However, unlike Mankiewicz, she is happy in the role she has been ‘cast in’. It would never occur to her to launch the sort of scathing attack on this gilded set that Mankiewicz’s script for Citizen Kane becomes.

The film is in fact less interested in the writing of Kane than you might expect.Kan, even with Tom Burke making a wonderfully detailed Orson Welles. It does however make sure to give most of the credit for story and dialogue with Mankiewicz, with Welles reduced to a petulant tantrum (the inspiration for Kane’s room wrecking) when Mankiewicz demands credit. (The film is in effect a dramatisation of Pauline Kael’s Raising Kane essay, which attempted to shift the key creative contribution from Welles to Mankiewicz). But then perhaps Mankiewicz finally realised films can be a vehicle for respectable, worthy work.

That is surely the lesson Mankiewicz learnt from the 1936 Gubernatorial campaign. His offhand remark inspires MGM to refashion its news reel department into a propaganda machine. Mankiewicz is plagued by guilt, self-loathing and disgust for his employers over this cynical and destructive abuse of power – but also his own failure to exploit his skills and talent to really make a difference (in a way his brother Joseph manages to do). Again, Fincher’s intelligent and beautifully crafted film leaves all this lingering in the mind, its initial impact only growing over time as you digest its complexities.

However, it is a film perhaps a little too absorbed in its detail to keep an eye on the heart. There are several scenes that feel missing. The film needs more of Mankiewicz as the court jester at Hearst’s. It needs more space to allow us to understand where Mankiewicz’s rage and bitterness really comes from. It needs more time to tackle his mixed feelings about his work. More exploration of the foundations of Citizen Kane. The pace sometimes flags and it’s a cold and admirable film rather than one that can be love, occasionally feeling a little pleased with itself (with its deliberately scuff-marked film and burned reel marks). I can well imagine some people using the dreaded word “boring” and it’s really a film for the cine-buff rather than the casual viewer.

The main flaw – and it might well be a big one – is that there isn’t enough focus given to what motivates Mankiewicz to turn so completely against the gilded in-crowd. Even when haggling over credit with Welles, Mankiewicz still points out he (unlike Welles) is a Hollywood insider and will win any arbitration. But the motivations of the film are hard to find amongst the skilful recreation of its design. The characters at times seem a little to artificial and lifeless.

But it has a host of other positives, all superbly marshalled by Fincher’s pitch perfect direction. The cast is superbly led by Oldman. Among the rest, Arliss Howard is terrific as the venal and hypocritical Louis B Mayer, Tuppence Middleton very affecting as Mankiewicz’s put-upon wife and Lily Collins charming as Mankiewicz’s assistant Rita Alexander. With its evocation of Hollywood style spot on, Fincher’s film also brilliantly deconstructs the dark, corrupt heart of Hollywood where powerful producers and money men are focused on their own ends. Shown through the eyes of one disaffected insider, it makes for a film-buffs delight and an intriguing if sometimes cold viewing.

Alien 3 (1992)

Sigourney Weaver goes through the motions again in Alien 3

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Sigourney Weaver (Ellen Ripley), Charles S. Dutton (Leonard Dillon), Charles Dance (Dr Jonathan Clemens), Brian Glover (Warden Harold Andrews), Ralph Brown (Aaron), Paul McGann (Golic), Danny Webb (Morse), Lance Henriksen (Bishop), Pete Postlethwaite (David), Peter Guinness (Gregor), Christopher Fairbank (Murphy), Phil Davis (Kevin), Niall Buggy (Eric)

Few films feel more like a grim contractual obligation than Alien 3. If you want a real blood bath, you’d get more entertainment from reading about the tortured history of its production. Over nearly six years it saw off several scripts, at least two directors (including David Fincher resigning over continual studio interference) and Sigourney Weaver only agreeing to do the film if she was killed off at the end (well that and a big pay cheque).

All of this ended up as a depressing, grim and largely unenjoyable mess that goes over the same old ground as the first two films, but with diminishing returns. After the events of Aliens, our heroes ship crash-lands on a prison planet. Everyone on board is killed other than Ripley (we’ll come back to that…). The planet is populated by criminals who have embraced religion, led by Dillon (Charles S. Dutton) and a small staff of warders (Brian Glover and Ralph Brown) and Dr Clemens (Charles Dance). The company orders Ripley to sit tight and get picked up. But did an Alien on the ship lead to its crash? Is there now an alien on the planet? And is Ripley carrying an Alien inside of her?

It won’t surprise you to hear that the answers to all these questions are of course “yes”. And the film takes a painfully long time to get there. This is made all the more painful by the shockingly, uninvolving grimness of the story’s telling. Nowhere is this more clear than in the ruthless killing off of the surviving characters from Aliens. After the warmth and humanity of that story – and Cameron’s skilled creation of a family dynamic between Ripley, Hicks and most especially the mother-daughter bond between Ripley and Newt, it’s hard not to feel that their brutal off-screen deaths are a real slap-in-the-face. At a stroke all the character development of the previous film is negated. And so we get back on the treadmill of another monster hunt.

It’s not helped either by the fact there is hardly a character here you could give two hoots about. The prison is almost completely staffed by British character actors, peppered with the odd American. The script totally fails to give any of these people really distinctive personalities at all, before the Alien starts munching through them. On top of which the lazy script is littered with effing and jeffing, that serves to make the characters very angry all the time and even less engaging. The film’s most interesting new character, troubled Dr Clemens (a decent performance of world-weary sadness from Dance) is dead by Act Two, and the rest are basically an identikit pile of same-old-same-old. Dutton gets some good speeches as the prisoner’s morally complex leader, but he’s fighting an up-hill battle against turgid dialogue and tired old plotting.

Already by Alien 3 it feels like the franchise was out of ideas. Yet again “the company” is up to no good, only interested in making a buck off the creature. A post-industrial landscape again sees a number of people killed off in ever more familiar ways. The alien looks a bit like a dog this time (or an Ox if you watch the longer and even duller extended cut), but that’s about the most original thing here. And at the centre of the misery we have a grimly resigned and disinterested Weaver, who seemingly can’t wait for that Alien to burst out of her chest and end her association with the franchise for good.

It’s very hard to find anything enjoyable at all about this film. And it feels odd to say that about a film which is about people being brutally murdered one-by-one by an alien. But the others had touches of hope, humanity and demonic poetry to them. This is just a parade of slumming it British character actors, playing foul-mouthed rapists and murderers, getting torn apart. And then the film ends with a colossal downer even more downier than all the rest of the sludge you’ve had to sit through.

Basically Alien 3 reminds us that, with the monster as a motiveless killing machine, there weren’t many places to go with it. It’s not like it could suddenly reveal a motivation or something. So it seems the franchise was doomed – as it has been almost ever since this – to be a familiar parade of facehuggers, dark rooms, slow builds as people meander towards death down corridors, blood splatter and people who barely qualify as characters meeting grisily ends. Alien 3 is depressing and unrewarding in so many ways.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig investigate unspeakable evil in David Fincher’s superb The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo adaptation

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Daniel Craig (Mikael Blomkvist), Rooney Mara (Lisbeth Slander), Christopher Plummer (Henrik Vanger), Stellan Skarsgård (Martin Vanger), Steven Berkoff (Dirch Frode), Robin Wright (Erika Berger), Yorick van Wageningen (Nils Bjurman), Joely Richardson (Anita Vanger), Goran Višnjić (Dragan Armansky), Donald Sumpter (Detective Morell), Ulf Friberg (Hans-Erik Wennerström), Geraldine James (Cecilia Vanger), Embeth Davidtz (Annik Giannini), Julian Sands (Young Henrik Vanger), David Dencik (Young Morell), Tony Way (Plague), Alan Dale (Detective Isaksson)

At the time of its release, there was a slightly cool reaction to David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Most reviewers were already familiar with the story twice over, firstly as the best-selling thriller then as the Swedish film starring Noomi Rapace. Perhaps fans were similarly slightly indifferent, while newbies had already declined the first two options, as the film struggled to crawl its way to breakeven. However, rewatching it, I feel this intriguingly well-made film deserves to be mentioned in the same discussion as another adaptation of a pulp thriller made 20 years earlier: The Silence of the Lambs.

Mikael Blomqvist (Daniel Craig) is a crusading financial journalist and co-owner of Millenniummagazine, whose career is in ruins after his article about the CEO of a major company leads to him losing a costly legal battle for libel. He is approached by retired businessman Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), who asks him to investigate the 40-year-old disappearance of his niece Harriet Vanger, who vanished on their privately owned island estate. Blomqvist is hired after an exhaustive investigation into his personal life by emotionally challenged hacker and private investigator Lisbeth Slander (Rooney Mara), who is facing her own problems of gaining her independence from her position as a ward of the state, represented by her vile guardian Nils Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen). As Blomqvist investigates, eventually with the help of Lisbeth, the trail takes a very dark turn suggesting a sinister hand behind the disappearance not only of Harriet but also of a number of other women around Sweden.

Fincher’s crisply made, icily cold movie embraces the coldness not only of wintery Sweden, but also the film’s chilling subject matter. There are very rarely – if ever – flashes of colour or light, with the world taking on an oppressive blackness and grey or windswept bleakness. It’s a perfect metaphor for the horror of what people do to each other. It’s brilliantly assembled, as you would expect from Fincher, and made with such consummate skill and excellence that its professional chill becomes almost oppressively unsettling, much like the plot itself.

Re-watching it I was put very much in mind of The Silence of the Lambs. That too was a masterfully made adaptation of a pulp novel that found a poetry and depth in the book, framing it around a series of unconventional relationships, with a female lead pushed into a role that sharply defies expectations. Both have at their centre a dangerous figure whose interests align with the other characters. Brilliantly, here the role of dangerously unpredictable genius and unexpected female role are both taken by Lisbeth Slander. (In fact Lisbeth is like a fusing of Clarice and Lector into one character). 

Like Lambs, which tapped into the 1990s obsession with the power of psychiatry and self-analysis and used it as the key to uncovering and defeating criminals, this takes our fascination with computers and the internet and uses that as silver bullet for finding criminals. Just as in the 1990s psychiatrists seemed to have access to some sort of mystical alchemy no one else could understand, so the film shows Lisbeth’s hacker skills as some sort of super power that can blow down secrets and accomplish things no one else can do. 

The film also echoes Lambs in its fascinating look at the place of women in the world. The film revolves around historical violence against women – when we finally have the killer unveiled he confirms women have only ever been his targets – and the film is heavy (in often wordlessly narrated flashbacks) with ominous feelings of danger from a domineering male culture. The world clearly hasn’t changed that much either. The killer continues to operate, everyone in a position of influence we see is an ageing man, Lisbeth’s ward is a vile sexual abuser. But, in this milieu of threat to women, Lisbeth becomes a sort of icon of a woman living life on her terms and taking control of her own life.

Impressively embodied by an Oscar-nominated Rooney Mara, Lisbeth is the sort of character you would normally expect to be a man: surly, anti-social, difficult, prone to violence, sexually indiscriminate, determined to always be in control and decisive in her relationships. She quickly takes the lead in her relationship with Mikael, professionally and later sexually (right down to her telling him where to put his hands during their passionate but also functional sex scenes). Mikael meanwhile takes far more the traditional “female” role: dedicated, hard-working, maternal, competent but better placed as the assistant to a true genius. Daniel Craig gives him a slightly rumpled middle-age quality, combined with a feckless recklessness that lands him in trouble.

The film is Lisbeth’s though, and Fincher brilliantly uses early scenes to establish her defiant, independent character. From snatching her bag back (brutally) from a would-be mugger on the underground, to a surly, blunt lack of respect she shows to a client, she’s painted clearly as a person who will respond how she wants, regardless of any “rules”. But Fincher also makes time to show her vulnerability. Lonely and insecure, she has worked hard to kill any vulnerability in her and protect herself from emotional pain. To see the small notes of tenderness she allows out – from her reaction to a former guardian suffering a stroke to her increasing emotional investment in Mikael – is strikingly engaging.

And we definitely see her suffering. If we had any doubts about one of the themes of this film being about how powerful men abuse and control women, the sub-plot of Lisbeth’s abusive warden (played with the pathetic, creepy relish of the small man enjoying what control he has by Yorick van Wageningen) hammers it home. The four key scenes between these characters cover a mini-arc in themselves from abuse of power, assault, revenge and power shift. Lisbeth may suffer terribly – more than she expects, much to her shock – but the sequence not only shows her ability to survive but also to turn the tables to her advantage. You could argue that this sort of rape-revenge fantasy might trivialise the impact rape has on real people – but it’s crucial for the theme of the film that there is hope that the sort of scum that abuse their positions can be stopped and that victims can survive and thrive. 

And you’ll need this as the film expands both into the past and the present day into a series of increasingly grim cases of historical abuse and murder. Fincher presents all this with the same brilliant, non-exploitative control that Jonathan Demme managed in Lambs. Despite the horrors of the themes, there is no lingering on anything graphic. Instead Fincher uses the tension of slowness, of steady camera work, of careful pacing to let tension and unease build up as we feel something is horribly wrong but never can be quite sure what. The final confrontation with the killer is not only deeply unsettling for it being one of the most brightly lit sequences of the film, but also for the middle-class banality of the villain’s taste (you’ll never listen to Orinoco Flow in the same way again) and the fascinatingly business-like approach he brings to his deeds of slaughter. 

The Girl with the Dragan Tattoo is such a well-made film that perhaps that’s its greatest weakness. It’s a little too easy to see a lack of personality in it, a professionalism, a clean perfection, a master craftsman quality, that you feel you are watching a studio picture made by a great director. And maybe you are: but then you could say the same about many of Hitchcock’s film, a director Fincher consciously echoes here. Superbly acted not just by the leads but by the whole cast (Plummer, Skarsgård and Wright are excellent while even Berkoff gives a restrained performance) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the sort of film that will surely only be considered in a warmer and warmer light as time goes by.

Gone Girl (2014)

Rosamund Pike is the Gone Girl leaving husband Ben Affleck in a difficult mess

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Ben Affleck (Nick Dunne), Rosamund Pike (Amy Elliott Dunne), Neil Patrick Harris (Desi Collings), Tyler Perry (Tanner Bolt), Carrie Coon (Margo Dunne), Kim Dickens (Detective Rhonda Boney), Patrick Fugit (Officer James Gilpin), Missi Pyle (Ellen Abbott), Emily Ratajkowski (Andie Fitzgerald), Casey Wilson (Noelle Hawthorne), Lola Kirke (Greta), Boyd Holbrook (Jeff), Sela Ward (Sharon Schieber), Lisa Banes (Marybeth Elliott), David Clennon (Rand Elliott)

In our modern media age, we’ve got massive expectations for how people are meant to behave. With so much of our perception of life filtered through the internet and films we’ve seen, we are reassured when we see behaviours we expect to see, and disconcerted when we see those we haven’t been trained to see. Not distraught enough at your wife going missing? Well you must have done it then!

That’s the problem that faces Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) in this chilling, intricate adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling book. Nick’s wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) goes missing in mysterious circumstances, possibly a kidnap, possibly a kidnapping gone wrong. The case becomes a media sensation, but the problem is Nick just isn’t expressive enough, won’t play the role of weeping husband. Instead he’s calm, distant and polite. So naturally rumour swirls that he did it – particularly after more and more manufactured evidence rears up to suggest he might have done. But does Amy have darker secrets than anyone might even suspect? Well to say any more would be a spoiler.

Fincher’s film is a tour-de-force of deliberately cold, polished looking perfection – which is designed to reflect back the surface perfection of the Dunnes’ deeply flawed marriage. Fincher’s film is in many ways a jet black social satire, using its almost outlandish shocks and twists to involve the audience in that “oh-no-they-didn’t!” way, in the same way that the Dunne media story fascinates the people in the movie.

“What have we done to each other?” Nick asks in voiceover early in the film, and it’s the question the film tackles obliquely: how much of the flashbacks to the relationship we see between Amy and Nick is real and how much springs from unreliable narration from Amy’s diary? Two handsome people living the American dream, but how much of it is an invented or projected narrative? Is their whole life a performance they are living for themselves and for others? Poor old Amy is even already semi-fictionalised person, a parents using her life as inspiration for a beloved children’s book character Amazing Amy.

So when Amy goes missing, the strain on Nick is very different from what you might expect. Rather than being consumed with grief, he feels wearied and dutiful about continuing a performance of a marriage which has long since ended. Nick’s actually too honest for this world – he won’t put on a show of how he is supposed to feel, he can only try not to make too much of a show of what he really feels. The mystery that builds around his and Amy’s marriage is born in this blunt honesty, of someone who won’t be what people want him to be. Of course that doesn’t stop Nick from being selfish or even a whiner.

Fincher mixes this intelligent commentary on society with, to be honest, the sort of bizarre extremism and bunny-boiling antics that make you unsurprised to hear he was inspired by Paul Verhoeven while making the film. It’s a film that shifts gears notably in the second half to become an increasingly gothic horror-thriller. A lot of this is powered also by Rosamund Pike’s excellent performance as Amy, a woman who seems almost completely cryptically unknowable, whose whole life has been a performance, and for whom taking on a series of roles and personalities is clearly not a challenge. Needless to say the person she turns out to be, and what she is capable of, is completely different from what the film leads you to expect.

It’s no surprise that a relationship featuring a person like Amy could go as south as the Dunnes’ has, but then Nick is hardly a saint either. Ben Affleck is just about perfect casting as a sort of All-American charmer gone to seed, a prickly fellow who wants privacy but also partly grows to enjoy the drama that surrounds him, once he works out the game he is playing. Fincher’s deliberately distant, smoothly clean-surfaced film frames modern day aesthetic perfection all round this seemingly dream couple.

The whole film is a nightmare vision of a love match gone wrong, of the after-effects of a beautiful story that has spiralled out into disappointment and everyday mundane life. And that struggle to keep the romance going in the familiar is at least something many of us can understand right? So it’s enjoyable to see that matched up with the freaky, semi-gothic blood and guts the film serves up in the second half, and the almost surreal Grand Guignol plot developments that power that half of the film (shot and scripted by Fincher and Flynn with a brilliant mixture of tension, horror and black comic delight at its extremity).

Like many Fincher films, there are several delightful performances. Pike is a revelation in a gift of a role, Affleck very good channelling his life lived in the spotlight. Carrie Coon is a stand-out as Nick’s exasperated, down-to-earth and loving twin sister. Kim Dickens is authorative and questioning as the police detective investigating the case, and Tyler Perry assured and cool as a hot-shot lawyer. Playing way against type, Neil Patrick Harris is pretty unforgettable as a slightly self-satisfied rich kid still holding a candle for Amy after all these years.

But the main success of the film is the whipper-sharp coldness of its execution, the cool tension Fincher ekes out of every moment, and the violent, Vertigo-ish obsession he gets out of every moment. Gone Girl works because it’s at first a chilling what-if story of a man in a media storm, which becomes a sort of black comedy so extreme that it pulls a delighted audience in to gasp at audacious characters getting away with outrageous things. As a black comic thriller it’s delightful.rela