The first rule of this column? Don’t talk about Fight Club. The second rule of this column? Don’t talk about how Fight Club isn’t as good as I remembered.
For the third installment of Colin’s Weekly Movie Reviews, I took an extended look at two of David Fincher’s most famous films, the iconic Fight Club and the underrated Zodiac. Within the next couple weeks, expect The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Seven to get a similar treatment.
- Fight Club
- Zodiac (Critic’s Choice)
- Year: 1999
- Director: David Fincher
- Grade: A-
Fight Club, as a movie, is undeniably cool. It breaks the fourth-wall, has plenty of meta-humor and has one of the most iconic twist endings of all time. It’s also anti-capitalism, anti-consumerism and anti-society, with some of the most stylistic directing ever seen in a film at that time.
But Fight Club isn’t the postmodern masterpiece it thinks it is — most of the time, it’s too smart, too stylish and too pretentious for its own good. I’m not saying that the film is bad, but it never truly transcends its status as a Gen X cult classic. Let me put it this way: is it really the 11th greatest film of all time?
Let’s start with the unnamed narrator, played by Edward Norton — his non-stop voiceover is tedious, and probably reads better on the page (Fight Club is based on the 1996 novel by Chuck Palahniuk) than on the script. Spoken out loud, lines like, “the things you own end up owning you” are more ingratiating than clever, even if they might be true.
For a movie that’s so anti-corporation, Fight Club’s dialogue is surprisingly full of empty sloganeering. “Condoms are the glass slipper of this generation,” “this is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time” and, believe it or not, “the first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club” are readymade jingles that ring out as hollow as a Krispy Kreme doughnut. The film is filled to the brim with armchair philosophizing, yet it doesn’t really advance the story.
Meanwhile, the storyline itself is so unbelievably contrived that it only makes sense on a metaphorical level. This is how director David Fincher intended it, obviously, but the film’s logic falls apart if you give it any longer than a second’s worth of thought. Nevertheless, Fincher’s direction is a successful trade-off — he brutally assaults the senses with fast-paced editing and desaturated visuals until the viewer is beaten into submission, at which point we can readily accept the surreal twists and turns.
So, why do I still give Fight Club an A-minus? Despite all the issues I have with the film, I can’t deny its addictive nature. It’s a somewhat uncomfortable experience, yes, but also an unforgettable one.
Brad Pitt has never been better as Tyler Durden, the über-macho soap salesman with an anarchistic streak. Likewise, Fincher’s talent behind the camera has never been more obvious. He’s like Quintin Tarantino on steroids. Or methamphetamines. I’m not sure which.
Fight Club is a cautionary tale — the film’s messaging is somewhat controversial, but so is its construction. Sometimes, postmodern hysterical-fiction doesn’t translate well to the screen. If the movie didn’t have its head so far up its own ass, I’d probably believe in its most important proverb: “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”
Instead, “sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken” will have to suffice.
- Year: 2007
- Director: David Fincher
- Grade: A
- “Pick of the Week,” Favorite Films of the 2000s
With a duration of nearly three hours, Zodiac is a marathon of a movie. Nevertheless, the film remains compelling from start to finish. The extended runtime is necessary in conveying the all-consuming nature of the Zodiac case itself — a decades-long, still-unsolved murder mystery that destroyed countless lives, gave purpose to several others and ultimately granted immortality to the one at its center.
It’s not a stretch to say that this might be David Fincher’s best film.
Zodiac is a newsroom drama, a police procedural and an homage to 1970s California, but its real genius lies in its ability to put the audience at the center of the investigation. We stand side by side with the characters as they relentlessly pursue the truth, or lack thereof. Days turn into months, and months turn into years. New evidence leads to old suspects, and promising clues lead to frustrating dead ends. As the information piles up, we become obsessed. We need to know the answer.
In turn, the film follows suit: there are no sub-plots or distractions. Even though the Zodiac Killer makes only a few appearances, his identity lurks at the heart of every scene. The investigation is the only thing that matters.
Fincher’s previous films featured the director as edgy provocateur — Seven (1995), with its cruel twists of fate; Fight Club (1999), with its elaborate, puzzle-box narrative; and The Game (1997) … well, don’t even get me started on The Game.
Zodiac, on the other hand, finds Fincher as casual observer — a documentarian who focuses on the cold, hard facts. Even though the film is epic in scope and meticulous in construction, the director never implicates anything more than what is seen onscreen.
Was Arthur Leigh Allen the Zodiac Killer? Although the film presents some compelling evidence, it ultimately makes no difference in the end. Fincher knows that we derive the same pleasure from hunting serial killers as serial killers do in hunting their victims. The most dangerous game is how we find our catharsis.