Film: Precocious prankster who gets a thrill from tripping people up

David Fincher is associated with the making of relentless, dark thrillers like `Seven'. Although his latest film `The Game' has its playful moments, Ryan Gilbey finds its director revelling in its depths of illusion

Brussels is not the brightest of places. This we know. Pea-green and cadaver-grey, it spurns all but the most resilient tourists. The director, David Fincher, is here to promote his latest film, and if his last two are any indication of the man's outlook and temperament, then Brussels should suit him down to the ground. We are not talking knockabout fun for all the family. His first feature, Alien 3, was like being locked in Strangeways prison for two hours, although it now feels like a Radio One roadshow compared to last year's follow-up, Seven. That film is the reason why at least three people in your social circle still sleep with the light on. Ask around.

Those acquaintances will be relieved to hear that The Game, Fincher's latest thriller, is less hazardous to your well-being. Which is not to say that it's an easy ride. But it is an enjoyable one. Michael Douglas plays the arrogant tycoon who enters into "the game", a real-life adventure tailored to fit the life and challenge the weaknesses of the fat cat who has everything. What it does for Douglas is disrupt the San Francisco he knows and challenge the validity of everything from the city's emergency services to his own ethical beliefs. From the moment his signature dries on the consent form, the basic principles of his world collapse. It's something like Woody Allen's joke about the man whose sister tells him that he's really a dwarf. "Everything in the house has been made to scale," she reveals. "You are only 48 inches tall."

However, Brussels has not been amused by The Game. "The reaction here has been interesting," says Fincher. As expected, "interesting" turns out to be a euphemism for "hostile and bewildered". "A couple of people here have said: `So you made a really good movie last time. Why would you go and make a movie like this?' People who don't like to be tricked by the films they watch tend to hate The Game."

The film is a hybrid of morality tale and conspiracy thriller, with enough little practical jokes to have Jeremy Beadle running for the exit crying tears of blood. On a literal level, we know that nothing which happens in the picture is real - because we're watching it on a cinema screen. But in the world of the film itself, we must determine whether the illusion has gone off the rails, like Westworld, or if the chaos is all part of a carefully orchestrated facade. It is likely to leave you in need of a quiet lie-down.

Both The Game and Seven suggest that, like Hitchcock, Fincher derives a lot of pleasure from wrongfooting the audience. "Those films have gimmicks in them which challenge the responsibility of the storyteller in the venue of a motion picture theatre," he explains. "For me, the best trick in Seven was the killer showing up on page 95. 'Cos you sit there in a movie theatre and go: `What? This doesn't happen! You don't chase somebody for this long only for them to go and give themselves up. Woah, something really bad's gonna happen now'. You didn't know if you were in the third act, at the end of the second act, or halfway through.

"There are a couple of good gimmicks in The Game. You spend the first 30 pages of the script establishing how rich this guy is. Then he goes: `Why are they doing this to me?' Duh. And there's lots of red herrings that your brain naturally catalogues because you don't know what will turn out to be relevant. Movies usually make a pact with the audience that says: We're going to play it straight; what we show you is going to add up. But we don't do that. In that respect, it's about movies and how movies dole out information.'

At just 34 years old, Fincher has quickly established himself as one of the American cinema's most precious and precocious talents. But you don't get that far without ruffling corporate feathers. Fincher knew the way he wanted things done right from the start. By the age of 18, the young Californian was a Lucasfilm employee, working on Return of the Jedi among other things, before landing a job in the music video division of "a really shitty commercial company". The company prevented its promo directors from straying into its commercials wing, which didn't irk Fincher too much because the output was pretty pathetic - breakfast cereals, models holding bars of soap next to their face, all that nonsense. And then they rubbed him up the wrong way.

"They said to me: `You have to make a commitment to doing lower-budget videos because that's where the industry's going", he recalls. "I just sort of lost it with them. I thought: `You guys are morons if you can't see that the music business is ego-driven, and that if there's lucre out there, there's gonna be some to spend on how to package and market these artists'."

In his frustration, he co-founded Propaganda Films in 1986. "Basically you'd set the tone for what people wanted to see with music videos, then sell the ideas back to commercial companies for ten times the money - `We did this video and we can tell you exactly how much it's going to cost to do it for your client and their stupid soft drink'." His client list provides unequivocal proof that he wasn't some arrogant college kid bluffing his way into the executive bathrooms of the rich and famous. There were commercials for Nike, Coca-Cola, Chanel. And promos for Madonna, the best of which was Express Yourself, the one that looked like Metropolis re-made in the style of gay porn.

He remains convinced about what makes a good music video. "The best ones don't tell the story of the song, but offer an alternative way of thinking about what's being sung. They're jumping-off points for other ideas, things which, while being singular, don't become the definitive interpretation."

Fincher hasn't lost his admiration for the modern music video. While the immaculate production design and constant sense of foreboding in his films recalls the best work of Walter Hill or Alan Rudolph, the kinetic, disorientating style hints at his own past. "Music videos are probably the most creative film-making being done right now," he says boldly. "They're also close to true directing - creating context for the understanding of an idea. I still feel that films are nowhere near as abstract as they could or should be, and I know there's an audience out there who would understand those abstractions. It's too bad so many movies end up being so literal."

As our conversation draws to a close, I try asking Fincher about his experience on Alien 3, a notoriously difficult production during which the director was rumoured to be all but exchanging gunfire with representatives of 20th Century Fox. In no time at all I discover why the subject rarely gets discussed in interviews.

Is it true that Fox were unhappy with the film's bleakness?

"Oh yeah."

Is that an understatement?

"Oh yeah."

Did you get a lot of flak?

"Oh yeah."

Finally, he chooses to elaborate. A bit. "I was contracturally obliged to be there, yet no one wanted me to be doing it. It was a bad situation." He pauses. "But I learned a lot," he says, his dry laughter bristling with sarcasm. "My motto is: I just do my work and try to live it down."

`The Game' is reviewed on page 10

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey
film
Sport
Bafetibis Gomis of Swansea City is stretchered off at White Hart Lane
football
News
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
News
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
Sport
footballLouis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
News
The spider makes its break for freedom
VIDEO
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
people
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Life and Style
love + sex
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Production Planner - Night Shift

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A leading Leicestershire based chilled food ma...

    Ashdown Group: Senior Accountant - ACCA, ACA or ACMA - Construction Sector

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Accountant (ACCA, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executive - PR and Broadcast - OTE £35,000

    £16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has an exciting op...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor - Shifts

    £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This European market leader for security...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot