After losing a ruinous libel case to a famous businessman, disgraced Swedish political journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) is contacted by a rich industrialist, Henrik Vanger (Plummer), who needs help with his memoirs. However, Blomkvist soon finds that Vanger is more concerned with finding the murderer of his favourite great-niece, who disappeared from their family's island in 1966.
"Fuck You You Fucking Fucker." The T-shirt (briefly) worn by Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth Salander in David Fincher’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s bestselling novel speaks volumes. First of all, it addresses the nay-sayers who thought Niels Arden Oplev’s 2009 original should be left alone — not because it was any kind of cinematic masterpiece, but because the previously unknown Noomi Rapace’s centrepiece performance was deemed definitive. But it also deftly represents The Social Network director’s personality. While aspects of the media disparaged his awards-season chances against The King’s Speech last year, Fincher was already disengaged from the beauty contest and hard at work on this excellent, often pitch-dark but otherwise almost note-perfect thriller.
It was, it must be said, a weird thing to want to do: remake a European hit so soon after its original release. But Fincher’s effort is perhaps the film Larsson’s book deserved all along; it may largely be faithful to the main story, but Steven Zaillian’s economic, witty script compacts and tidies up the minor details that make the difference between a very good literary adaptation and a gripping cinematic thriller. And while Blomkvist’s labyrinthine travails reappear in the last half hour, Fincher’s film sensibly concentrates on the whodunnit element — most smartly of all, dispensing with the strange quirk of Swedish justice that allowed Blomkvist to go to jail at the very end of the original.
Instead, Blomkvist is a ruined man, and Craig is the perfect foil to the eventual, explosive arrival of The Girl. Even though everyone else seems to have a Swedish accent, however slight, Craig plays it with his own, but surprisingly the effect doesn’t jar. Bleary-eyed, stubbled and often seen in disturbingly unfashionable winceyette pyjama bottoms, Blomkvist is a low-key, effective everyman in what could easily be an overplayed, hokey story. The wonderful Christopher Plummer — excellent in Mike Mills’ Beginners too, and looking at an Oscar nomination either way — is especially delicious in this regard, inviting the writer into a story that involves “thieves, misers, bullies — the most detestable collection of people you will ever meet”. Then he adds the clincher: “My family.”
The Girl herself takes her time, and Lisbeth’s story takes a good while to bed down as Blomkvist gets to grips with the dysfunctional Vangers. And without wishing to get too caught up in comparisons with the other movie, Mara’s performance completely holds its own here. Where Rapace was aloof and flinty, Mara is more childlike and mercurial. Her actual age (withheld, for good reason, for most of the film’s running time) is hard to fathom. When she flips her hoodie she could be a 14 year-old boy; when being raped (rather graphically) by her legal guardian she could be any underage girl. But when she’s in control — which is much more satisfyingly shown here, given the age gap between herself and Blomkvist — she is most definitely a woman.
The main thing, however, is perhaps how much Fincher has grown into the role of auteur, without apparently trying or even wanting to. While it appears to be another one of Fincher’s five-finger exercises — like Panic Room or The Game — this is a film that could prove to be a key work when the big study book is written. The oily, exhilarating credit sequence suggests a knowing, Fight Club-style subversion of Craig’s 007 persona; the awkward parental bond between Blomkvist and his daughter recalls the wistful poetry of Benjamin Button; Vanger’s need for closure echoes that of Robert Graysmith in Zodiac; the film’s casual, slyly funny cyberpunk heroism makes a great counterpoint to the dry, sceptical satire of The Social Network, and the whole film is suffused with the harsh brutality of Seven.
Are there flaws? Well, arguably, in the decompressing final stretch, which relates back to the book and opens the door to the possibility/inevitability of a trilogy. But that also enables an ostensibly hard film to wind down to a surprisingly tender climax. Though Fincher professes to be a hard-ass both professionally and aesthetically — and with its not-to-be-underestimated moments of anal rape and torture, his film is not for the faint-hearted — The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo says more about broken hearts than broken people. Which, to address the nay-sayers, is where Fincher went right.
A tough, post-punk Tintin-meets-Klute for the Occupy Wall Street set, this kinetic, hard-edged thriller is the perfect festive comedown for Fincher fans and dysfunctional families everywhere.