From the opening credits of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo– where dark, swirling digital imagery from the story uncoils to the roar of Immigrant Song (retooled by Trent Reznor), you know that Fincher means business. Stieg Larsson’s crime novel (the first in the phenomenonally successful Millenium Trilogy) was first adapted as a Swedish film in 2009 and normally I would be wary of yet another Hollywood remake.
Not quite in this case though. I found Larsson’s novel to be an averagely written potboiler, with a well- meaning but confused feminist message and some of the most ridiculous plot contrivances since Dan Brown decided (erroneously) that he could write. I could bitch at length about how the plot presents the reader with a “locked room mystery” and then resorts to the lamest solution imaginable, but I ‘ll spare you the rant. Lets just say that Larsson (who died before the publication of the books) may have been a great crussading reporter, but as a thriller writer, he is not in the same league as Thomas Harris or James Ellroy.
Well, Fincher and screenwriter Steven Zaillian do wonders with the material. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a sleek, dark, tense thriller with a terrific cast (Steven Berkoff, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Robin Wright) and a distinct European edge that reminded me of Gorky Park. Fincher is clearly enjoying himself with the story of leftwing journalist Mikael Blomkvist, hacker goth genius Lisbeth Salander and their investigation into the horrific past of the rich Vanger family (Rape! Murder! Nazis!).
The film streamlines the novel and fetichizes a grungy, probably innaccurate vision of Sweden as a wonderland of snow, sleaze and deep secrets. Not everything works- compared to Zodiac, this feels far less mature, and the epilogue lasts for ages, as the script tries frantically to tie up loose ends- but I was very entertained. Daniel Craig injests some charisma into the role of Blomkvist, a rather bland character in the books, but the real test for the movie is of course how it handles Lisbeth Salander. Noomi Rapace was excellent in the Swedish version, but I was pleased to see Rooney Mara knock it out of the park here as well. Her Salander is a intelligent, sensuous creation and I could watch her beat people up and sulking in front of computer screens all day (she also gets a lesbian seduction scene that’s pure poetry- just sayin’…). It’s a star- making performance and it saves the film from being an empty exercise in stylish darkness.