The Theater: Seoul Cinema, Screen #7
Not the most cozy of theaters, the foyer is big and airy with not a huge collection of seats for all the people that have to wait for the elevator that takes them to most of the screens (not sure if this is a regular thing, but the escalators going up were shut down and roped off so that only the elevator could be used, and the ticket takers did so before people got on the elevator. This lead to two groups of people coming into my screen by mistake, one a father and his two young sons who fortunately figured out their mistake before the rape and murder began)
In a nutshell: Fincher needs to find better material. He remains a genius in terms of pacing and editing – this thing moves lithely through the screeds of information that is drip-fed out, much like his excellent Zodiac (2007). But whereas that earlier film had at its core the unsettling aura of unknowability and unconsummated obsession to help give the numerous telephone and interview scenes an accumulating emotional resonance, here we are pretty much left with a half-baked CSI episode without any of the spazzy twists that the show likes to throw in there. Indeed, the resolution of the mystery (both parts, actually) is totally shrug-worthy, and could probably have been solved in about an hour with a long dinner conversation and a reporter who was half-way decent at asking questions. It is rather cynically spiced with biblical references and gruesome crime details, but they don’t add anything to the pathology or character of the criminal – they are used as seasoning to help us get the whole painless meal down.
Back in the 90s, Fincher was willing to take on genuinely risky and/or original material. Seven (1995), Fight Club (1999) and to a lesser extent, The Game (1997) all have fantastic underlying premises elevated by Fincher’s direction. But since Panic Room, Fincher has more or less seemed to make it his mission to try and elevate mediocre material into an engaing whole, but unfortunately there are limits to how much the direction can make a crappy screenplay, or premise, fly. Now, you would argue that Zodiac doesn’t belong in that second group, and you’d be right – except that it actually paints a more depressing picture, that Fincher the potential auteur par excellence has his head turned too easily by financial returns. Witness Fight Club, easily Fincher’s funniest, loosest, most anarchic picture. It flopped, and three years later he follows it up with his most stripped-down, basic B-movie yet, Panic Room.
That made enough to give him a bit of leeway with the studio bottom-liners, so he went and tried something a little less mainstream, more personal (Zodiac). That flopped even harder, and was basically abandoned by Paramount when it may have been able to generate a little Oscar heat had they believed in it enough, so what does Fincher do? Goes full-on Oscar-hungry with his most polished, award-baiting, epic film yet (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button ) which was nice enough but lacked a narrative urgency that caused the emotional nuances to exhaust themselves too early (and boy do I hate that bloody framing device. Can we get framing devices registered as a terrorist threat and Guantanamoed?). And the two films that followed, safe, high-brow mainstream movies with little of the energy or creativity Fincher can bring to bear on a film.
Basically, I want to see Fincher to something visionary, where there is just as much chance he could crash and burn as make a masterpiece. Because I’m kind of tiring of these nice, engaging, decent airplane movies.