Directed by: David Fincher. This has been a Fincher-heavy year, almost by accident. I wouldn’t even say that I’m particularly a big Fincher fan, but I can think of worse filmmakers to brush up on. To start with, it’s interesting to place this film in the rest of Fincher’s filmography, and I’m going to cautiously offer a thesis about his distinct, telltale Fincher style, namely that it’s gotten steadily more invisible as he goes on and gets more popular. Perhaps it’s dismissive not to take each film on its own terms and say that Fincher is merely giving each film what it needs and no more, and that it’s a good thing that he doesn’t O.D. on style at the expense of the needs of the film. But it sure is striking to compare this movie with the visual sensibility of his breakout films like Se7en, Panic Room and Fight Club, and even the more muted but still very present and encapsulating shroud of darkness that covers his work made firmly within the established mainstream, stuff like Social Network, Dragon Tattoo, and Benjamin Button (and which really signals his presence in House of Cards). With only a shred of research, I’d say that this is Fincher’s biggest movie—the highest box office and most accolades (it was certainly one of the Oscar buzz movies last year), and it was based on a hugely popular novel, which for some reason makes me respect it less (that’s my own shit to deal with I guess). And so I guess this is a roundabout way of me saying that my initial impression is that Fincher “sold out”—this film has, on first impressions, a strikingly un-striking visual palette, the most muted, un-Fincher-like lighting and colour scheme, etc, and that this is a calculated move for a guy like Fincher who got a taste of big money mainstream success and acclaim and he wants to keep it. That being said, I’m totally open to the idea that this is a juvenile and dismissive position to take. And really, the last few Fincher films, including Social Network, his other “breakthrough” success (in a career that in many ways is marked by repeated mainstream “breakthrough” films) had so much of that dark shrouding and Fincher lighting that it was getting to be pretty gimmicky and self-parodying. So, then it would definitely be a smart thing for him to pick this story which, in addition to it being a best-selling book, is set almost completely in the daytime, which is the inverse of about 100% of his other movies. That alone, taking his usual strength and robbing himself of it, having to deal with natural light, wide open windows in spacious, affluent bourgeois houses rather than the claustrophobic nocturnalia of most of his films (from the panic room, to the dorms of Harvard, to the ur-city of Se7en) is an admirable gesture for an artist to take. And the effect of shooting it all digital, in 6K (I totally know what that means), is that the whole film, set in this flat, WASP world of suppressed emotions and lack of trust, comes across visually as very crisp and clear but also very flat and one-dimensional—it has a one-dimensionality that feels so damn satisfying, it’s beautiful because it’s so unremarkable. And the striking scene where she cuts the guy’s throat and gets covered in the sudden spurt of blood looks all the more jarring for the contrast in colour palette from the muted pastels and grey-blues that have dominated the preceding 2 hours of screentime. Now, all of this said, the gender politics in this movie are completely fucked. The story struck me as a bit frivolous and it left me, as the Dragon Tattoo series did, wondering why and what. Why did that movie happen? What am I supposed to take away from it? No one is trustworthy, the institution of the family is inherently suspect? Some backhanded feminist nugget about how “women can be strong and assertive too”, and/or some idiotic MRA/Salem Witch trial affirmation that “deep down, women are scheming, emotionless psychopaths, terrifying for the unpredictable nature of their wrath.” Basically, I suspect this of being another victim of what we in Film Criticism call the Fred Durst Effect—a conflation of negativity with depth, which usually results in a film whose incredibly insightful thesis on modern society amounts to: “Everything is fucked, everybody sucks.” As always, I may be missing something giant here, and I’m (more or less) all ears.