Mank, the latest from director David Fincher, is yet another feat by a filmmaker who has notched a few of them. He’s in that holy trinity of modern directors right alongside P.T. Anderson and Christopher Nolan — auteurs whose films are so defiantly theirs. Fincher would be the first to tell you that his career started off disastrously (read on for info on the Alien 3 production), so who could have anticipated all of the success that would follow both critically and financially?
Not only did our film staff agree on a ranking of Fincher’s 11 films, we went ahead and dissected each movie, as well. The director’s career is full of highlights, curiosities, and a small serving of disasters. However, all of his films remain interesting in their own ways. We hope you’ll dive into the 8,000+ words ahead and join the conversation in our comment section below as we break down the career of the great David Fincher.
Hell, I’m gonna go ahead and read it again myself.
11. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
Runtime: 2 hr. 46 min.
Press Release: The trials and tribulations of a man who ages in reverse.
Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, Julia Ormand, Tilda Swinton
Inspired Casting: Pitt is surrounded by many familiar faces here, which plays a bit like cinematic de ja vu. For reference, he co-starred with Ormand in Legends of the Fall, with Swinton in Burn After Reading, with Jason Flemying in Snatch, with Jared Harris in Ocean’s Twelve, and with Blanchett in Babel. Plus, his daughter Shiloh makes a cameo as Benjamin and Daisy’s daughter Caroline, age 2. Thanks to this film, “Seven Degrees of Brad Pitt” just got a whole lot easier.
Fincher En Vogue: While Button is not one of Fincher’s better films by any stretch, Daisy’s car accident scene may be one of his most accomplished sequences. “Sometimes we’re on a collision course and we just don’t know it,” drawls Benjamin’s voiceover, “Whether it’s by accident or by design, there’s not a thing we can do about it.” Events unfold like a train chugging along, slowly picking up speed, and then running off the tracks: if the French woman hadn’t stopped to answer the phone before hailing a taxi, and if the taxi driver hadn’t stopped to order a coffee, then the fates would not have aligned as such that the taxi would come screeching at Daisy at the exact moment she was crossing the street, effectively ending her ballet career as a ballerina in one swift, sickening crash. Obviously the pacing, editing, and seductive imagery of these shots illustrates Daisy’s agony with more visceral feeling than words ever could, which is why the visual power of film remains so enticing, and also so uniquely devastating.
Score! French composer Alexandre Desplat, known for a diverse repertoire that includes Zero Dark Thirty, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Parts 1 and 2, and several Wes Anderson films, scored Button with an 87-piece ensemble of the Hollywood Studio Symphony.
Alternate History: Early development of the film began in 1994 and resurfaced in 1998 with Ron Howard tapped to direct.
Short Story vs. Film: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story upon which Fincher’s Button is based, differs from the film in almost every way imaginable. Only Benjamin’s name, the general aspects of his aging process, and the title match the original story; the rest is completely re-written. Fitzgerald’s tale follows Benjamin from his parents’ home to a try at college to his father’s hardware store, where he meets Hildegarde Moncrief, the love interest that is Daisy in the film. He goes on to serve in the Spanish American War, then enrolls at Harvard, and comes home to find that his wife Hildegarde has moved to Italy. Eventually, he fades away as a toddler in kindergarten, unable to remember anything of his earlier life.
The Forrest Gump Connection: Doesn’t sweet, earnest, idiosyncratic Benjamin seem a bit, well, Forrest Gump-y to you? That’s because Fincher specifically sought out Eric Roth, Forrest Gump’s Oscar-winning screenwriter, to pen the script for Button.
Oscar Fail: Button led the Academy Awards race in 2009 with 13 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor in a Leading Role (seriously), but only went home with three awards in the “blatantly rush the hardworking but non-famous people off the stage with exit music” categories: Best Makeup, Best Art Direction, and Best Visual Effects.
Analysis: Despite its impressive motion-capture aging effects and lush, often breathtaking cinematography, Button is, at its core, a disappointing dud. The dialogue shoots for poetic but usually rings hollow, the actors appear lost and confused most of the time, and the story, stretching for a painful two hours and 46 minutes, is bloated about an hour too long. And while Pitt shines in the Fincher vehicles Fight Club and Se7en, his Benjamin is a bland, soggy slice of milquetoast.