The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo review

by Fiona Rae / 28 January, 2012
David Fincher has perfect control over his version of the Stieg Larsson story, which opened this week.

Could this possibly be an accident? David Fincher, having cast the current James Bond in a very unBond-like role, opens the resulting film with an inverted, nightmare version of the traditional Bond movie’s music video title credits. The music is a driving Trent Reznor cover of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song; the gleaming monochromatic visuals are hypnotic yet urgent. The sly Bond reference is clearly just a throwaway side effect of giving The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a grab-you-by-the-throat opening. But don’t think for a second it’s an accidental side effect. This is a David Fincher film. There are no accidents. That’s the one fault I can find with it.

Given how poorly matched I am to the subject matter, I ought to be able to find more. I’m not touching the question of whether Stieg Larsson’s books deserve to be the global craze they’ve become – prescriptive theories of what people should like are just another form of paving stone for the road to hell – but when it comes to badly written fiction with unlovely gender politics, my embarrassing weakness is for the Twilight series, not the Millennium trilogy. (Lisbeth Salander strikes me as the dubious sexual fantasy of a lacklustre author whose other main fictional creation is the self-projection figure who gets to sleep with her.)

I am also not fond of English-language remakes of well-made foreign language films. It always surprises me that American audiences, whose supposed inability to deal with subtitles and pictures at the same time is what gets these remakes green-lit, don’t resent the implication that they’re too dumb to read comics. So Fincher’s remake of Niels Arden Oplev’s perfectly serviceable adaptation of the first Millennium book was two strikes down with me before those opening titles even rolled. I loved every single minute of it. (That’s 158 minutes, by the way.)

If it wasn’t already clear, and after The Social Network I think it was, this film establishes that Fincher is one of the great living cinematic craftsmasters. That isn’t the same thing as being a great visionary artist. Fincher does not reimagine the world and present it to you in a slow-motion lightning strike. If there are deep currents of thought or feeling running below his mirror-perfect surfaces, other than a troubling fascination with cruelty and obsessive personality types, I haven’t yet detected them. He just makes very handsome films.

Sweden, which Fincher wisely retains as the setting for Larsson’s story of misogyny, rape and serial murder, looks fabulous. The snow is radiant with cold. If there were no people in the film, the architecture, flipping between Platonic ideals of the rundown, the folksy, the new-money clinical and the old-money imperial, could almost sustain the running time on its own. Reznor and Atticus Ross have scored for Fincher, as they did on The Social Network, and I’d sit through the film a second time just to admire the way their ragged, pulsing electronica soundtrack serves the story. In fact I plan to.

But the film stands or falls with Rooney Mara, whose performance in the title role faces a punishing comparison with Noomi Rapace, such a definitive-seeming Salander in Oplev’s version. Mara is ferociously good. (Craig, playing Mikael Blomkvist, Salander’s mild-mannered crime-solving partner, delivers a disciplined low-watt performance; the two have great chemistry, but it’s Mara’s movie.)

Mara’s Salander is a more extreme personality than Rapace’s, scarier, more intense, and without ever tripping over into pastiche. In this respect, she personifies Fincher’s gleaming, turn-it-up-to-11 production values, and my only question is whether the shabbier world of the Oplev film might not feel slightly more real, and thereby ground the story slightly better. I think it might. Fincher’s perfect control over his material permits no accidents, and a crime story thrives on the possibility of accidents; a perfect crime can’t be solved. In some deep sense, Fincher’s version is at odds with itself. But it isn’t the Oplev version I’ll be queueing up to watch again.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, directed by David Fincher.

Click here for more reviews and stories by David Larsen.

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