Sunday, 25 December 2011
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Stellan Skarsgaard, Christopher Plummer, Robin Wright
By Alan Bacchus
I don't think we should consider this picture a remake of the original, but considering the close proximity of the Niels Arden Oplev version, let's call the Swedish version a trial run of sorts for this film adaptation. The fact is the first film was pretty good, a decent adaptation the novel visualized with a David Fincher-like style – a grisly crime procedural told with a slow-burning, cold tone and precise visual compositions. Well, now we have the real thing, the real David Fincher at the helm of the 'American version', a film not all that dissimilar from Oplev's but with the full and authentic Fincher experience.
Fans of the book (or the first movie) that feared the Americans would 'Hollywoodize' these universally loved 'Swedish' stories can relax. Fincher has dutifully honoured Stieg Larsson and his Swedish heritage by making this as Swedish as possible. Not only is the film set in Sweden, it was shot there and co-produced by Yellow Bird, the producers of the Swedish films. Other than the lead players, Fincher populates most of the supporting roles with real Swedes. Hell, even Robin Wright does a decent Swedish accent!
The story is the same with few changes from the original (note: I have not read the book). Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist for Millennium magazine who has recently been indicted for libel for a scathing article on a high profile financial tycoon. At this lowest moment of his life, he gets a call from Henrik Vanger, an even more powerful corporate tycoon who offers Mikael a job – to investigate the murder of his beloved niece, Harriet, who, after disappearing in 1965, has been tormented by her killer with flowers each year on his birthday.
Holed up in an icy cold estate up north, Mikael systematically goes through all the old evidence, but the most intriguing aspect of the case is the tempestuous Vanger family, one of whom must be the killer. Vanger's siblings, nieces and nephews are portrayed as a motley crew of spoiled aristocrats sequestered from regular working class life. Mikael's investigation hits its stride when he employs a goth super hacker and the person after whom the film is named – the tattooed girl, Lisbeth Salander. Though suffering from psychological damage from a life abused by men, she's created a stone cold kickass feminist attitude that allows her to get what she wants. By the end, the secrets of the case are revealed in traditional pot boiler plotting, including a dramatic confession by the killer at the end. But it's the tease of Salander's back story and Mikael's connection to the Vangers and his professional issues with the magazine that enrich the experience.
Noomi Rapace was a brilliant Lisbeth Salander, and Rooney Mara does a fine job keeping up with her. Her expressionless composure and physical attributes (piercings, tats, goth attire) create an imposing first impression, but Rooney adequately shows us the deep-rooted pain and fear from her years of emotional torture. Fincher plays out her character as I imagine Larsson had intended, as a superhero of sorts, not someone to replicate some kind of realist character portrait, but someone to root for and stimulate us like an aggressive martyr fueled by revenge. The back story of Salander, as mentioned, is perfectly teased to us, but by proxy Harriet Vanger's story we assume is also Lisbeth's.
Daniel Craig is curiously cast perhaps because he's a better looking version of Michael Nyqvist, the Swedish blonde with a poxy face who played Mikael in the original film. Craig embodies the intellectual and political savvy of Blomkvist with aplomb. He's not glorified with sexual allure like in the Bond films. Craig's attractiveness comes from his ability to analyze the minutiae of data and evidence.
As expected, Fincher plays out the procedural aspects of the story with a wicked sense of pace. Under the tough but moody sounds of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, he makes the 158-minute running time fly by without notice.
Unlike the first film, Fincher ambitiously extends the narrative beyond its natural ending for another 20 minutes to close off the plotting of Blomkvist's legal troubles and to some degree his relationship with Salander. It's a tightly plotted montage sequence, the kind that normally exists in the second act to compress time, and by all rights as a denouement it shouldn't be there. But this all works simply because of Larsson's intriguing pulp narrative, rich with multi-generational back stories and strong themes of feminism under Fincher's singular and unwavering vision and filmmaking skills.