Maybe it just isn’t a story I needed to be told three times.
Or, perhaps I expected a lot more from the visionary director of “The Social Network” and “Zodiac” and “Fight Club.”
Whatever the reason, I spent a lot of time squirming in my seat the other night during David Fincher’s version of the Stieg Larsson blockbuster thriller, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
I enjoyed the novel as a whodunit/serial killer tale with a fresh setting — Sweden — and a new take on Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, in the former of a disgraced journalist and the punk/computer genius/autistic girl of the title.
Larsson filled the novel with enough interesting background material on the modern magazine world and Swedish support of the Nazis during World War II to help us forget about the many implausibilities in the plot and an almost sadistic atttention to detail in the scenes of rape and kinky sex.
A Swedish movie version of the novel was released here two years ago to considerable success on the arthouse circuit — it was a good straightforward adaptation clearly made on a low-budget but with a memorable performance by Noomi Rapace in the title role. The Swedish production company filmed the other two novels in Larsson “Girl” trilogy in quick succession in 2009 and they were released here too, with diminishing box office returns.
Why Fincher chose to do what is in effect a Hollywood remake of a very recent Swedish film is the real mystery of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
It’s a very sleek piece of work, with the sort of visual craftsmanship and pulsating soundtrack that we’ve come to expect from this great director, but the pedophile serial killer mystery at the heart of the movie is the same sort of genre material Fincher has already tackled with much more punch in “Seven” and “Zodiac.”
The Lisbeth Salander computer genius character is very well played by Rooney Mara in the new movie, but her behavior becomes less plausible the third time around. Here is a woman with the physical prowess to bring down a man who has killed many women and the technical savvy to move millions in and out of Swiss bank accounts, but who still submits to the horrendous sexual abuse of her parole officer/social worker in order to get government checks to pay her rent.
Experiencing this subplot a third time I was left with the queasy feeling that Larsson included the two rape scenes for sleazy narrative jolts (and to give us a feeling of triumphant pseudo-feminist revenge when Lisbeth finally turns the tables on her tormentor).
The major villain of the piece — a Nazi pedophile serial killer — looks more and more like a cheaply melodramatic concoction each time we meet him. And, the vast and well-equipped subterranean torture chamber he is given in the Fincher version seems preposterous on the claustrophobic island retreat occupied by all of his nasty, back-biting family members (no one caught on to this depravity — and the slew of missing girls — for more than 40 years?)
It’s no wonder this slick rehash isn’t doing well at the box office — there is really no compelling reason to see it in a theater.