Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Yorick van Wageningen, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Joely Richardson, Geraldine James, Goran Visjnic, Donald Sumpter.
Americans don’t particularly like subtitles, which is why we have this remake of the compelling Swedish thriller The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the first instalment of Stieg Larsson’s best selling Millennium trilogy. Oscar winning writer Steven Zaillian has drawn closely upon the novel itself, and has made the complex plot relatively easy to follow. He clearly understands the dynamics of the story and the elements that made it such a compelling read and film.
Directed with his usual style and sense of the sinister by David Fincher, this remake of the 2010 Swedish thriller is faithful to the original film, with a few minor changes. Most notable is the way in which the ending has been tweaked. Stylistically and tonally it also recalls his two previous serial killer thrillers Seven and Zodiac.
Having lost virtually everything in a libel lawsuit, disgraced investigative journalist Michael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is hired by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), the multi-millionaire patriarch of one of Sweden’s most famous and powerful industrial families. Ostensibly hired to write his biography, Blomkvist learns that Vanger wants him to investigate the disappearance of his niece Harriet some four decades earlier. It is a mystery that has never been solved. Henrik suspects that Harriet may have been murdered, and that a member of the Vanger family may have been responsible. “Thieves, misers, bullies… my family,” warns Henrik.
Blomkvist moves into a small cabin on the Vanger’s private island enclave. As he probes into the history of this dysfunctional but malevolent family, Blomkvist rattles a few well-buried skeletons. Along the way, he also encounters a number of morally dubious characters, investigates links to a hidden Nazi past, and uncovers a potential serial killer who has been operating undetected for decades.
Blomkvist enlists the help of enigmatic, antisocial, punk-styled, bisexual cyber hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara, seen briefly as Mark Zuckerberg’s girlfriend at the beginning of Fincher’s The Social Network, etc) to do some of the more complex research. Salander has her own dark backstory, which involves dealing with a predatory State appointed guardian (Yorick van Wageningen) who monitors her finances, but takes advantage of her in other ways.
Fincher is an intelligent filmmaker, and thankfully he doesn’t tone down original director Niels Arden Oplev’s dark tone or soften the powerful, disturbing sexual violence of the material. The rape scene is as horrific and disturbing as in the original. Fincher unsettles us right from the start with a jarring opening credits sequence reminiscent of the titles for Seven, his 1995 serial killer thriller, accompanied by Trent Reznor’s version of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song.
The canny casting of this remake also aids the material considerably, although the variety of accents used is a bit of a distraction.
Craig continues to impress with the depth and range of his non-Bond roles, and here he brings a confidence and dangerous edge to his portrayal of the crusading journalist. While Noomi Rapace made the role of the Lisbeth Salander her own in the original films, Mara puts her own spin on the complex, psychologically damaged character. Her portrayal will always suffer in comparison, but Mara brings a fierce intelligence and feisty quality to the role, but she also manages to find a vulnerability that was maybe lacking in Rapace’s performance. Stellan Skarsgard also turns in a subtly menacing turn as the seemingly affable Martin Vanger, who hides some powerful secrets of his own. And Plummer brings a sadness and poignant note to his role.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is quite atmospheric and tense. Fincher is a very cinematic director, and here he has filmed in Sweden, which lends an authenticity to the bleakly beautiful and at times claustrophobic settings. The crisp and striking cinematography from Fincher’s regular cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth (Fight Club, etc) echoes the cold wintry landscapes of the story’s setting and suffuses the material with an air of menace.
The razor sharp editing from Australian born Kirk Baxter, who has worked on three of Fincher’s films, and Angus Wall (Zodiac, Benjamin Button, etc), also contribute to the film’s dark, bleak tone. Particularly impressive is their handling of the montage scenes on Blomkvist’s investigation using a series of old photographs and newspaper articles.
Those unfamiliar with the original will find this remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a taut, brutal, gripping and stylishly directed thriller that doesn’t disappoint. Many within the audience will already be familiar with the novel or the Swedish film (or both), and they will find Fincher’s remake more than satisfactory.