Everyone remembers their first David Fincher experience. Whether it was finding out what was in Kevin Spacey’s box, Ed Norton’s mind or Sigourney Weaver’s stomach, those intertwined feelings of breathless confusion and eye-popping exhilaration were forever firmly imprinted in the minds and memories of moviegoers everywhere. Two decades later, the master of intrigue is still at it, returning to the director’s chair and our Netflix accounts this month with a brand new series. Seemingly the perfect vehicle for Fincher, Mindhunter is a late-70s psychological crime drama, set around a collection of mental sparring sessions between imprisoned serial killers and two FBI agents, tasked with finding out what makes the murderers tick.
Growing up in California with an 8mm camera in hand, Fincher’s Hollywood success was preceded by a prolific, award-winning spell directing music videos for the likes of Aerosmith, Madonna and Billy Idol. Now 54, Fincher’s maturing as a feature director has been a joy to behold. Following a bruising encounter with the studio while shooting his debut, Alien 3 (1992) – a picture he despises to this day – the 90s saw the development of his penchant for dark and twisted crime-infused thrillers, and the birth of his unique technical style.
The violent, controversial and ultimately divisive Fight Club (1999) undoubtedly made the most noise during this era (looking back it is almost comical to see how much critics hated it at the time). Standing higher than both Fight Club and The Game (1997), however, is neo-noir murder mystery, Seven (1995). Giving rise to Fincher’s trademark camera placement, attention to detail on every set, and willingness to experiment with imagery and colour during post-production, Seven is a claustrophobic, heart-pounding monster, with a tension-laden payoff that remains as freshly bleak as it did some 20 years ago.
The 00s began with a more traditional, straight forward production in the form of Panic Room (2002), before a five-year break led to arguably the richest, most diverse period of Fincher’s career so far. The oft-overlooked Zodiac (2007), based on the true story of the unsolved 1969-1970 killings of the same name, saw a return to the brooding, visually and emotionally draining style of Seven. Only a year later, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) – his third collaboration with Brad Pitt – continued to push the boundaries of technology in the form of subtle visual effects. Having shown off his ability to dive deep into heartstring-tugging territory, Fincher was finally recognised at the Academy Awards, where Benjamin Button received 13 nominations and won three statues.
What came next is by far and away Fincher’s zenith; a culmination of his tried and tested assaults on audience emotion, edge-of-your-seat impulsiveness, and unorthodox technical mastery. Put simply, The Social Network (2010) is a masterpiece that deserves to be revisited (or watched for the first time) as a warm up for Mindhunter, just as much as his more traditionally aligned serial killer flicks, Seven and Zodiac, or even slick recent successes Gone Girl (2014) and Netflix’s own House of Cards.
The main reason why is the shared core themes of self-preservation, personal power, and the influence one has on society around them, ranging from complete strangers to those closest to them. Fincher weaves the (sometimes loosely adapted) story of Mark Zuckerberg and Co. into a cinematic drama that’s so much more than the mere portrayal of how Facebook came to be. In hindsight, the fact that he was snubbed in the Best Director category at the Academy Awards, as was The Social Network for Best Picture (The King’s Speech won both, though thankfully screenwriter Aaron Sorkin was recognised for his magnificent script), is almost as criminal as the murderers set to grace our screens in Mindhunter this month.
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