*This review was originally posted on the now defunct world cinema blog subtitledonline.com
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer
Stieg Larsson’s popular bestseller gets the Hollywood treatment, directed by David Fincher and starring Daniel Craig and relative newcomer Rooney Mara as the punk anti- culture heroine with the dragon tattoo. For fans of the Swedish TV series/theatrical releases, the big question is whether we have already had our definitive onscreen incarnation of Lisbeth Salander?
Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is editor of Millennium, a left wing watchdog magazine that specialises in exposing the unseen injustices behind everyday society. The movie begins with Blomkvist reputation soiled after getting accused of libel after an investigation into the finances of prominent Swedish industrialist, Hans-Erik Wennerstrom, goes wrong.
In the midst of the media storm, Blomkvist is contacted by former CEO of Vanger Industries, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer). The elderly tychoon, wishes Blomkvist to use all his investigative skills into shedding light into a mystery that has eluded the old man for over 40 years, the disappearance of his beloved niece Harriet. Vanger believes that she was murdered by a member of his close family, conveniently collected upon his island estate in the frozen North of Hedestad.
Aiding Blomkvist in his investigation is Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), the girl with the dragon tattoo, a genius researcher blessed with a photographic memory and talent for hacking but cursed with an ongoing history of violence. Together they work towards the truth and the dark secret at the heart of the Vanger family.
The fact, that David Fincher is directing this version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo certainly feels like a no brainer. From multiple homicide, anal rape, the hunt for ritualistic serial killers within the darkness of a chokingly brooding atmosphere, the source material is typically Fincher. After winning the Oscar for The Social Network, this does indeed feel like a victory lap of his greatest moments.
All the same, to all who rightly snarff at the prospect of another Hollywood remake, one of the main critical nitpickings of the Swedish TV movies was that they not nearly as cinematic as the original source material promised. Fincher has rectified this by making something that subversively resembles a Bond movie. Slyly using the glamorous franchise that thrives on a fantasized beacon of masculine empowerment to inspire an all too gritty tale of one unusual heroine and her battle against violence against women.
After a short understated prologue, comes an explosive Bond esque title sequence soundtracked to an industrial rendition of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song. In the place of hourglass silhouettes of super models shooting off walthers amidst a glamorous psychedelic diorama is a chaotic vision of petroleum morphing into screaming faces and fists illuminating the film’s pitch black tone of violent misogyny .
To say that it brings the novel’s source material kicking and screaming onto the big screen would be an understatement, especially after the Swedish movies. It is so strong a first impression that the rest of the movie has trouble keeping up the momentum.
Then you have Daniel Craig in the role of Blomkvist. Thanks to his Bond persona, Craig does feel too slick in the role of disgraced journalist. By comparison, Michael Nykwist felt more fallible in the Swedish originals, more believable as a rough and ready investigative journalist burning the midnight oil going through hell in the pursuit of the truth. Craig is serviceable however, next to Salander, Craig’s Blomkvist feels more like a comic foil, as he struggles to work his macbook and wonders where the cat went.
Of course the real star of the film is the titular girl with dragon tattoo played by Rooney Mara. As with Noomi Rapace in the original films, she goes through the same harrowing events and immediately brings the audience to her side when she carries out her revenge. However, whereas Rapace seemed to make Salander slightly more emotive and human in places, Rooni Mara’s is almost bulletproof by comparison as exemplified by her actions in a reworked final act.
In one scene, Salander routinely goes through a list of murdered women explaining in great unblinkering detail whilst Craig’s Blomqvist struggles to keep down his breakfast. The central relationship between Salander and Blomkvist is given less screen time to develop, though it is conveniently accepted that Lisbeth already knows everything there is to know about Blomkvist, having already meticulously googled him to death.
In an age where Doctor Who or Sherlock Holmes have to explain their reasoning to the audience through elaborate visual monologues, Rooni Mara’s Salander seems to stop and stare at the audience with a piercing gaze as if to say ‘are you keeping up?’
Unfortunately, the main problem in the elevation of these two characters is that the drama and feeling of peril that surrounded the two significantly more human leads of the Swedish films is significantly lessened, diluting a lot of the danger of the novels.
Much of Salander’s backstory wisely remains a mystery throughout Fincher’s film, and is clearly left open to explore in the inevitable sequel. The strength of Noomi Rapace’s performance in the original TV trilogy was enough to carry audiences through a lackluster sequel and a slightly better third act. Strangely having already gone through the remake, we are left looking forward to Rooney Mara reprising the role in a better-conceived sequel.
Though there will inevitably be a feeling of deja-vu, Fincher’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, is a tighter more cinematic affair than its Swedish counterpart. Through all its pacing and stylistics the element of risk and drama that was so evident in the original movies is unfortunately lessened. Once again, a powerful central performance by Rooney Mara is enough to give this franchise legs. Again…