But I don’t think he’s the Second Coming either, though some of the reviews he tends to get would have you believe otherwise.
What finally tore it was his version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” that opened Dec. 21. If this had been the first version of Stieg Larsson’s book to hit the big screen, it might have been impressive. But, coming in the wake of Niels Arden Oplev’s Swedish version, released here in 2010, it looked like what it was: second best, too little too late.
So, David Fincher, welcome to my Overrated Hall of Fame.
Yes, I know – I’ve tended to give his films positive reviews. I don’t think he’s a repetitively self-reflexive stylist like Ridley Scott or just a plain commercial hack (like Shawn Levy). But he’s nowhere near as good as some of his fanboy critics seem to think.
As I said, Fincher is a good director, capable of making haunting, exciting films. I count “Zodiac” as one of the most overlooked films of the past decade and can still plug into “Fight Club” if I happen across it on TV. I was surprisingly moved by “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” And I happily put “The Social Network” on my 10-best list last year.
On the other hand, I thought “The Social Network” was as good a film as it was because of Aaron Sorkin’s Oscar-winning script. I said as much to Sorkin at the New York Film Critics Circle awards dinner in January: that, with a script that good, it wouldn’t have mattered who directed the movie.
Sorkin, of course, demurred, telling me (and repeating in his Oscar speech) that the film wouldn’t have been the film it is without Fincher at the helm. I still disagree.
Fincher came out of the gate fast, with a high-speed “Alien 3” that crashed and burned. Rumor has it that the detail-obsessed Fincher regularly battled Fox executives and that the script – with a half-dozen writers credited – was in a constant state of flux. So his visuals were striking but the story dissolved into nothing.
He followed that with “Seven” (sorry, I refuse the affectation of putting the numeral in the title), as overrated a film of the 1990s as I can think of. Again, this one was all concept and visuals – as though Fincher was auditioning to become an honorary Scott brother to Ridley and Tony. But the emphasis on imagery and atmosphere couldn’t spackle over the holes in the plot or the simplistic solution, with its heavy, dread-laden triumph of the evil in man’s nature.
“The Game” was an engaging mind-twister but not even a film that most people mention when they talk about Fincher. “Panic Room” was strictly a programmer – a formula thriller with splashy style. It was as unworthy of a “genius” like Fincher as “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
As I said, I’ll concede “Zodiac,” “Benjamin Button” and “Social Network” as terrific movies. But “Dragon Tattoo” swings the needle back in the other direction.
Not that there aren’t critics who love this movie. But I’m surprised at the number of reviews I’ve read that proclaim it yet another Fincher masterwork. Perhaps it’s a generational thing; critics from the baby-boom generation have icons like Coppola, Scorsese and Spielberg to look to, as well as the legacy of the movies of the 1970s.
But Generation X critics have – who? Wes Anderson? Spike Lee? Steven Soderbergh? Worthy directors all, yet none who bring the kind of consistent excitement/wow factor to their work that the preceding generation did. Which is why, in my opinion, Fincher holds such a warm place in these hearts.
But “Dragon Tattoo” is a major misstep, and here’s why:
Once the Swedish film had been made – and done to such a fare-thee-well – any director worth his salt would have backed away and said, nope, sorry, this one doesn’t need anything further, certainly not from me. Let a hack take a crack at it.
So the decision to push forward with a Hollywood version – while an obvious business choice – should have been one that any self-respecting director would take a pass on. The only reasons to make this movie – again, so soon – are either to do something completely different or to cash in.
I’ll give Fincher the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t do it for the money. But the movie he came up with simply is not that different from the Swedish film. It’s not that Fincher didn’t do a good job; rather, it’s that Oplev did a terrific one – and the material itself, Stieg Larsson’s novel and characters, simply don’t lend themselves to a more abstract treatment.
Certainly Fincher was not out of bounds to think he could bring something unique to this material or to feel that it was right up his alley. But the bottom line is that this movie isn’t significantly better than the Swedish version. There are Fincher touches to be sure: the oily opening credits set to a reinterpreted version of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” the play of lights in the pitch-dark woods during a climactic chase. But making this movie his own? Nope, “Dragon Tattoo” doesn’t cut it.
I look forward to Fincher’s future films. He’s got an interesting sensibility and approach.
But to place him in the pantheon of greats is premature. To do so is to seriously overrate him.Print This Post