Joe McKeown’s review published on Letterboxd:
Fairly unpopular opinion I'm sure, but aside from a couple of undeniable greats and one or two personal favourites, I'm not really the biggest fan of David Fincher.
As a director with a relatively small filmography, to say I'm "not a fan" when admitting I like at least three of his films, is maybe a tad strong, but my issues are more deep-rooted than whether he makes an effective film. He's never done anything to offend me on a personal level or anything, it's simply his approach to movie-making that I find a little... dissatisfying.
Now, I appreciate many people will begin to shake their heads in disbelief at this next comment given the general consensus, but I actually really do love The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The precise reason being that it's the least "David Fincher" movie that David Fincher ever made.
I said in my review of that movie that it has heart. And that's something I find almost all of his movies completely devoid of. Granted, I'm generally a miserable SOB so I should be right at home in his universe, but there's a whiff of conceitedness to a lot of his films, I find.
Sometimes, it all comes together and the combination of solid storytelling and technical wonder serve to make something special like Se7en, Fight Club or to a slightly lesser extent, Social Network.
At other times though, such as The Game, Panic Room or Zodiac... it all comes off as an empty exercise in egomania.
To be clear, I think this movie is better than either The Game or Panic Room, but like those two movies before it, there are so many moments in which I'm taken completely out of what could be a thoroughly gripping story, into what feels more like a filmmaking class from Mr. Fincher.
The opening 30 minutes veer into a stylistic horror show at times, sacrificing both the performances and logic of the storytelling.
Take the pre-credit sequence. It probably made for great trailer material, but I find it completely devoid of tension. It honestly reminds me at times of Gus Van Sant's remake of Psycho in that it has that old movie stiltedness but shot through a really ugly new-age (in this case) digital prism. The two characters in the car act like they've walked off an M. Night Shyamalan set, and as for the setup and payoff of the full Hurdy Gurdy sequence? It feels a million miles from the guy who crafted the darkness of John Doe's sins in Se7en.
After the credits, there's another awful CGI flying zoom over the city, then there's the top-down taxi viewpoint... I know I'm picking individual shots here, but this is exactly the kind of thing I mean when I say I'm taken out of the experience, and in a movie that is supposed to be all about the procedural elements ultimately adding up to a nothingness, I really need to feel the weight of what everyone has been through, and for that to happen, I need to be constantly invested and not reminded that I'm watching Un Film De David Fincher.
Thankfully, it's far from all bad. At the core of the film is a fascinating story, and Fincher is certainly capable of crafting a thriller that is based on such a challenging story. Where the flair does work is in some of the cross-cutting edits between characters as they reveal more about the investigation - some of that is really well done.
Performance-wise, I think Ruffalo and Gyllenhaal are competent if unspectacular (apparently Jake is even less of a fan of Fincher than I am) and Robert Downey Jr. gives a fun, solid performance as... Robert Downey Jr.
And as negative as I seem in this review, there's still plenty to like. It's just a case of "what could have been" for me.
Last gripe (honest)... it's at least 45 minutes too long. Not that it's a particular slog to get through the runtime thanks to the snappy editing and evolving nature of the plot, but I think it's more effective - given the conclusion - if you juggle a few scenes around and ultimately end with Graysmith visiting Avery on the boat, that way you cut a lot of the slow trudge towards a non-/conclusion and walk away, certainly unfulfilled -which is the point - but ultimately satisfied that you have reached an end-point.
But what the hell do I know?
I appreciate this is right up there for a lot of people and I wasn't going to bother writing a review once I confirmed my feelings about the movie on this rewatch, but hey, I've been dishing out 5 stars like candy lately!
Don't hate on me. I'm glad so many of you love this movie. Me? I'm off to watch Se7en again.