A review of David Fincher’s new adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
As solidly talented as David Fincher is, I’d be lying if I told you I walked into his recent adaptation of the Swedish pop-phenom The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo this past Tuesday confident in his ability to deliver a stunning piece of cinema out of what has proven an easily exhaustible franchise. In all honesty, the Swedish-produced films that preceded it were shoddily realized, eschewing atmosphere for a by-the-books approach to style, tonality, and execution. Sure, Noomi Repace had looked the part of Lisbeth Salander, so fascinatingly alien-looking in punk regalia it teetered on an appropriate level of creep-tastic eroticism, but the film itself was bereft of the energy necessary to properly convey the malice behind the narrative and characters. So when I heard Fincher had taken the film up as his next project following last year’s absolutely terrific The Social Network, I felt compelled to approach it with at least a little trepidation.
Despite his being an ever innovative stalwart of the industry, Fincher hasn’t been entirely without missteps in the past (Panic Room was little more than a fluff piece while the underrated Zodiac lost momentum by its third act and failed to regain much needed steam) and judging from the earliest glimpses I gleaned off Girl‘s tasteful (if flawed) teaser trailer, it seemed as though the languid pacing of the Swedish adaptation of Larsson’s novel was going to become a returning factor in the Americanized reconstruction. That, of course, is not to say the film didn’t have a lot working for it: the ensemble cast Fincher had put together was looking fantastic, along with Jeff Cronenweth’s appropriately stark photography and an already impressive soundtrack released early courtesy of Trent (“I wanna f*ck you like an animal”) Reznor and Atticus Ross. Still, I couldn’t quite wipe the stain of earlier attempts at a decent adaptation from my memory, and kept my fingers crossed the second time would be the charm.
Luckily, it was. Virtually superior to the Swedish adaptation in every way that matters, Fincher’s Girl oozes with atmosphere and personality, practically seeping with attitude and gloom. One of the saving graces of the newer film is the accomplished aforementioned cast: unlike Repace’s purely aesthetic take on the Salander character of the 2009 film, Rooney Mara plays the part with ample edginess and abandon curiously absent in the previous outings. Along with Mara, Daniel Craig’s Michael Blomkvist takes a far less, as one critic put it, “doughy” approach to physicality and masculinity than Michael Nyqvist had in the Swedish version. While the characters are basically unaltered on a narrative level, the distinctive attitudes each actor gives their roles in the Fincher film manages to speak to their given roles in the context of the encompassing investigation. Craig manages to convey an air of intellectuality in his manner of delving into the murder mystery, while Mara’s Lisbeth exemplifies a sort of fiery, nihilistic savantism Repace was only capable of pulling off in the looks-department. Needless to say, Fincher’s direction is nothing short of enthralling: every shot in meticulously framed, every cut deftly placed, and every spurt of brutal violence effectively gut-wrenching.
That said, not everything in the film is executed without a hitch. The title sequence, digitally produced and cut to Karen O and Reznor’s cover of Zep’s “Immigrant Song”, is curiously reminiscent of a Bond flick, which both works for and against the film on a tonal level: while it adequately conveys the punk-leanings of the narrative at hand, it immediately sets itself apart from the overall pacing of the film… Casino Royale this is f*cking not. While the film captures an audience’s attention through an effective use of soundtracking and editing, the bulk of the story plays out over two and a half hours, and nearly 20 minutes prior to the actual finale of the film. Speaking of which, the finale, while understandably done in an attempt to flesh-out the underlying human aspects of Lisbeth’s broken nature and ability to love, feels a bit forced on Fincher’s part. Had I the sense that Fincher would follow Girl up with a sequel in the style of the Swedish films, I’d have less of an issue here, but given how it plays out more like an aside than an epilogue, I left the theater feeling a bit too jaded to appreciate Fincher’s “men are just a$$holes”-message. Regardless, however, at a grating three hour run-time, Girl still manages to pack quite the cinematic wallop. It offerins an often breathlessly paced murder mystery story and compelling characterization previously unrealized in earlier outings. For the “Feel bad movie of Christmas”, Fincher sure left me feeling pretty good about walking away from the multiplex $8 poorer than I’d been walking into it.