After a short title sequence that wouldn’t look out of place in front of a movie about a debonair Britsh super-spy, director David Fincher tightly winds the bombast back in favour of an old fashioned detective tale that is a master class in understated film-making.
If only someone hadn’t got there first.
If you’re not familiar with the multimillion selling Millennium trilogy of novels (or their foreign cinematic counterparts, the first part of which was released in 2009), this Swedish noir follows Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig, cast perfectly and on the form of his life), a investigative journalist down on his luck following a successful libel prosecution against him. Recruited by a elderly industry magnate to uncover the whereabouts of the latter’s niece who disappeared 40 years in predictably mysterious circumstances, Blomkvist’s investigations lead him into perhaps the murkiest mire of them all: his benefactor’s familial relationships.
He is assisted in this Herculean task by enigmatic researcher/elite hacker, Lisbeth Salander (played at an almost method-level of intensity by Rooney Mara, last seen exchanging barbs with Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network and battling Freddy Krueger in the disappointing Elm Street remake, a hell of a pedigree) in the film’s signature role as a young woman with a penchant for black clothing and piercings who has been used and abused by the system from a young age.
Craig has simply never been better while Mara as Larsson’s titular anti-hero is clearly destined for great things despite the fact that her portrayal more often than not feels like a glowing tribute to Noomi Rapace’s compelling effort in the original adaptation rather than a quite separate work. That’s not to say Mara is inherently bad, there is a quite obvious commitment to getting it right, it’s simply that someone already does it better.
The leads are rounded out by a cast of terrific supporting players, among them Christopher Plummer, Joely Richardson and Robin Wright. If there is perhaps one disappointment, it’s the film’s villain, whose fine performance is marred by a clumsy introduction that has the actor signposted so prominently as A Character of Evil Intent it’s hard to remember there is still a mystery to be unwrapped.
On the whole, the film feels like the complete antithesis of an A-list studio effort save for an extended coda that suffers from the overbearing need of virtually every movie north of an $80 million budget to tie everything up neatly. It feels curiously disconnected from the rest of the plot which crackles along, as an unashamed old-fashioned detective yarn, with clue followed by clue. The dark underbelly is hidden away from plain view, underneath a surface that is all snow and Instant Loveland-sky.
On the surface nothing more than a lurid pulp thriller, scriptwriter Steven Zaillian along with Fincher and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth have made a dark, dank tale into something quite beautiful. The film is gorgeously shot without an inch of fat and has been scored with a pulsing, elegant soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross that almost bests their effort on The Social Network. This is a film you can very much sink into a giant seat with on a cold day although ‘comforting’ is the last word I would use to describe it.
And yet for all its obvious technical triumph, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is still hopelessly unnecessary. If you’ve seen the Swedish original, there’s nothing particularly new, the experience is very much like watching a great film again with the nagging doubt that something’s not quite right this time around. The remake has obviously had much more money fired at it but it’s not actually a significant improvement and Rapace’s performance remains the definitive version.
That glacial soul has gone. Hollywood simply decided that audiences couldn’t handle a subtitled film and in trying to put its own stamp on it, something has been lost in translation. All that’s come out is a rather lovely looking copy that is an imitation nonetheless.