On Sunday I received an e-mail from a Sony publicist I'd never heard from, with the subject line in call caps: "URGENT REVIEW NOTICE / THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO." The e-mail was intended to both warn film critics about a brouhaha that had broken out thanks to The New Yorker critic David Denby, who saw the film on November 28, signed an embargo agreement saying he wouldn't publish a review until December 13, then went ahead and published his review anyway. The e-mail named Denby specifically as the embargo breaker, and was not so subtly threatening the rest of us: "We have punished Denby, and he is a big-deal film critic. Don't think we won't do the same."
Denby and The New Yorker stood their ground, resulting in a heated e-mail exchange between Denby and Dragon Tattoo produce Scott Rudin, which you can read at The Playlist. But only today has the film's director, David Fincher, spoken up about the mess, in an interview with The Miami Herald. Unsurprisingly Fincher sides with his producer, but says with no hesitation that film critics are part of the business of getting films out there, and they need to play ball.
"But as silly as this may all look from the outside - privileged people bickering - I think it's important. Film critics are part of the business of getting movies made. You swim in the same water we swim in. And there is a business to letting people know your movie is coming out. It is not a charity business. It is a business-business.
He also suggested his ideal strategy for screening a film for critics, which is course, is something no one will ever actually agree to but probably nice to think about for a director as controlled and detail-obsessed as Fincher:
"Look, if it were up to me, I wouldn’t show movies to anybody before they were released. I wouldn’t give clips to talk shows. I would do one trailer and three television spots and let the chips fall where they may. That’s how far in the other direction I am. If I had my way, the New York Film Critics Circle would not have seen this movie and then we would not be in this situation. I would be opening this movie on Wednesday Dec. 21 and I would have three screenings on Tuesday Dec. 20 and that would be it.
Fincher has always seems more than a little press shy, and even in the relentless promotional effort for The Social Network he kept his distance-- that probably helped Tom Hooper take the Best Director Oscar that Fincher richly deserved. But while this, in his words, tempest in a teapot rages on around his film, I don't blame Fincher for being annoyed. He's not trying to control the opinions of film critics or change the minds of people who didn't like his movie; he just wants people to stick to their word, and not throw a wrench into the difficult process of releasing a movie as big as this one. I'm obviously inclined to side with my fellow film critics in most instances, but in this case, it's hard not to sympathize with Fincher, caught in the middle of this just for having made a movie people care about.