Netflix just released their new original series from David Fincher and creator Joe Penhall titled Mindhunters. Fincher directed four out of the episodes in what was heavily advertised and promised as a spiritual follow-up to Fincher’s most seminal and finest work, Zodiac. The series looks great, the cinematography is on point, the score is what we’ve come to expect from the works of Fincher (same for the use of popular music), yet it doesn’t really quite live up to the standards of reuniting David Fincher and Netflix.
The series is an origin story about the FBI taking behavioral science seriously for the first time in the late 70s. Criminal profiling wasn’t a vocation then, but the series examines high profile serial killers and psychopaths from that era episode to episode, with the two man characters Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) traveling across the United States giving psych presentations to local law enforcement and interviewing subjects like Edmund Kemper and Richard Speck.
The show is intriguing, but it’s getting to the point where there are starting to be visible stress lines in the bubble that is “serial killer dramas” in the cinema and on television. Criminal Minds, Hannibal, True Detective and a trove of films have covered the subject matter in much of the same way, and while Mindhunter has fabulous production value, it doesn’t seem fresh or new.
The series also suffers from some wooden performances from some of the more prominent characters on the series. Jonathan Groff is fine as the young G-Man who stresses urgency for the FBI to take psych seriously when trying to understand the inner workings and mindset of killers; it’s not that Groff gives a poor performance, but there just doesn’t seem to be much there for him to develop the character into this sort of Will Graham-esque protagonist.
A couple other performances from some of the other supporting cast are not good. And at times it almost feels as if you’re watching a new episodic broadcast series with “fresh new faces” that are out of their depth and skill set working with a filmmaker like Fincher. There is a saving grace to the lackluster cast; Holt McCallany, he is fantastic as the seasonsed and hard FBI agent who has become crusted over after years of dealing with deranged killers. Cameron Britton gives a showstopping performance as Edmund Kemper and is an immeasurable amount of joy to watch, both his physicality and delivery of dialogue.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the series is there doesn’t seem to be an overall narrative to the first season. Sure, there’s character progression in the form of personal relationships and career building, and we’re teased with a big bad killer who is preparing to do something horrific, but the series is more episodic than having a taut character-driven main arc like say, True Detective.
Mindhunter is a good series but suffers from high expectations with the higher talent assembled and a premise that looked like a mixture of the Hannibal Lecter series and True Detective. It’s good to see David Fincher still working in tough narratives, but some may wish he had skipped this and focused on whatever his next feature is.
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Review by Frank Mengarelli