Quick Take: Perry enjoys Fincher's remake, but doesn't consider it one of the director's best.
David Fincher has never shied from the dark and sordid. The director of Seven, Zodiac, and Fight Club has delved into sociopathic tendencies and violent culture. He is one of the few mainstream directors who take their audiences to heavy, dark places.
His latest, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is yet another provoking movie experience, though lacks enough distinction to warrant top ranking among Fincher’s filmography.
It should be disclosed I have not read the novel by Stieg Larsson or seen the original Swedish films. I apologize to any fans of the series who can spot my subsequent lack of knowledge – though this has been beneficial to appreciate screenwriter Steven Zaillian and director Fincher’s adaptation as something all of its own.
The film begins with one of Fincher’s signature opening title sequences – this time with Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Karen O reimagining Led Zepplin’s ‘Immigrant Song.’ Picking up quickly afterward is Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig – who plays it well, but is still a bit too James Bond), an investigative reporter under lawsuit of libel from an international billionaire. In a related yet tangential storyline, we meet Lisbeth Salander, AKA our title character (Rooney Mara – who gives a spot on performance).
The two become entwined in the mystery of an elite, old Swedish family, and the disappearance of their daughter some 40-years ago. Stellan Skarsgard, who is just always so good, gives another chilling performance as the son and heir, while Blomkvist and Salander begin to unravel a serial murder and web of familial lies deep beneath him.
Fincher really knows how to make a scene’s atmosphere tense – and spares no effort in doing so for this film. Every scene is claustrophobic, especially early on in the film with the rape of Lisbeth. Fincher makes these and other violent scenes viscerally effective without necessarily being distasteful.
The thematic implications of violence against women weave through the family’s mystery too, as do the power of legacy, the nature of evil, and generational discord as younger Sweden copes with the memory of its Nazi-sympathetic elders. But there is something lacking from the manner in which Fincher’s version is produced that fully embodies any of these thematic structures. In that way, the film felt a bit unsure of itself and what it was trying to say.
With a near fetish of technology and drama, I could not tell if the film was trying to be sleek and cool or a meditation on violence, sex, and family.
Even in the film’s darkest moments, there was still something clean about them – lacking the grit and grime I have heard is much more prevalent in the Niels Arden Oplev original. This, however, could simply be lost in translation. It does seem Fincher had to cater to American tastes of sexuality and violence that sometimes contradict the very messages within the film. Perhaps it’s best that the series remain a Swedish series.
In this unsure and rambling way, the film does run over two-and-a-half hours. Fincher’s other work, Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network, tend to feel long too, but always worth it in the end. Despite any imperfections, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was too.
– Perry Allen