Today at the London Film Festival I saw the first two episodes of the new Netflix show Mindhunter, followed by a Q&A with director/producer David Fincher and actors Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany. In 1978, two FBI agents discover a common interest in the newly emerging phenomenon of Serial Killers, or “Sequence Killers” as Holden Ford likes to call them. They discuss motivations and pathology with each other and with actual serial killers they interview in prison.
The show looks fabulous. The two leads work wonderfully together. They shrug off the typical cliché of mismatched cops by actually having very similar views, it’s just that one is more tired than the other. They’re both very aware that they don’t know enough about the mind and why serial murderers do what they do. They both clearly struggle with this and are determined to do what it takes to improve their ability to assist in the prevention of these hideous crimes. This makes their partnership seem a closer, more functional one than Hart and Cohle of True Detective series 1, with which Mindhunter might superficially find itself compared. It’s nice to see partners who actually like each other immediately.
The show looks great. It has the Zodiac style smoothness to it, and a real film noir grit. There’s an ugly looking CGI gunshot wound in the first episode, but it shouldn’t be hard to suspend your disbelief. This isn’t an action show, so the violence shouldn’t be an issue. The main action of the show involves the two agents travelling the country and speaking to various law enforcement agents as well as a serial killer. I’m hoping they will be talking to more killers as the show goes on or at least returning to Cameron Britton’s Edmund Kemper. Britton’s performance was brilliantly unnerving as the politely spoken but deeply troubled killer.
Much of the show is dedicated to discourse on the subject of criminal psychology. The changing nature of crime troubles many, but our two leads are clearly fascinated by how much they don’t understand. I enjoyed watching the process of these men’s idea forming. First recognising that there is a problem, then rejecting assumed knowledge, and then establishing how they going to go about exploring this dark territory. The emotional impact of this process is clearly fraught, especially challenging the knowledge of others.
There are some wonderful Fincher Flourishes in these first two episodes. A montage of the two men undertaking their job as travelling trainers for local police is very Fight Club. The style is often playful. One of my favourite sequences involved Jonathan Groff’s Holden Ford trying to flirt with Hannah Gross’ Debbie in a very noisy bar. Subtitles are provided for them but in strikingly dynamic fashion. The first half of a sentence will appear on one side of the screen, followed by the second half once the characters reach it. This lends a dramatic quality to the subtitles, often to comedic effect. There is a great deal of comedy in the show. Fincher explained that you needed levity if you want people to follow you into the basement.
The Q&A panel discussed the extent to which the two lead actors enjoyed the project and researching their roles. They revealed that we shall be learning much more about their characters and their backgrounds throughout the show. Fincher was also very positive about Netflix as a medium. He expressed that he wished to see television and film influencing each other and both becoming stronger for it.
I can’t wait to watch more of the show when it’s released in its entirety on Netflix this Friday.
Paul Salt is the co-host of One Good Thing.