Music Feature

Film Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

by Piers Marchant
Can David Fincher work his deep, dark magic on a Stieg Larsson's unwieldy creation?

Dir. David Fincher
Score: 6.1

We already know David Fincher (Se7en, Zodiac) can direct, but in adapting Stieg Larsson's bewilderingly popular novel, he's been given one of his greatest challenges: Turning Larsson's clunky and overwrought book into something resembling a fluid and arresting narrative. The Swedish adaptation, directed gracelessly by Niels Arden Oplev already made the first, largely lame attempt, a tedious and torpid exercise in shabby shock value and overwrought depravity. So how does Fincher fare? Ladies and gentlemen, we might be witnessing one of the rarest and most elusive of all cinematic forms: An American remake that far outdoes the foreign original.

The story involves a recently humiliated journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), having just lost a libel lawsuit against an oily corporate fat cat, taking on a well-paying assignment from an elderly business man (Christopher Plummer) and trying to track down the truth behind a decades-old suspected murder amongst members of one of Sweden's wealthiest -- and most dysfunctional -- blue blood families. Quickly getting in over his head, he enlists the aid of a crack computer expert, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a fierce young woman with a pretty seriously messed up background of her own. Together, the two of them quickly make progress with the case, but as they begin to get close to the truth, Mikael, living in a small carriage house on the estate of the family, becomes increasingly under attack from unknown sources.

Fincher's film, unlike Oplev's TV-movie style, is, as always, meticulous and gorgeous to watch (the opening credit sequence alone, involving abstract imagery cascading with what appears to be jet-black oil is like a cross between a hip-hop music video and an art installation), and his cast is far better equipped to handle the rigors of their characters (with the possible exception of Noomi Rapace's Lisbeth, who was suitably bewitching). The production value is sky-high, from the beautiful art direction to the superbly crafted wardrobe. Fincher is at his best with creepy, sensationalist material, and gets plenty to work with in Larsson's darkly psycho-sexual storytelling. The film also has atmosphere in spades (the snowy Swedish backdrop has never looked more eerie) and unlike the original, it actually makes the effort to show its two protagonists hard at work trying to piece together the scattering of clues they've been given. It’s not a film of facile shortcuts and lazy exposition.

None of this considerable effort, however, is able to raise the film completely above its source material's many significant faults. The late Larsson -- a journalist-turned-novelist -- worked in what might generously described as broad strokes, and his herky-jerky plot attempts to be far more tangled and intricate than it actually is. Following the lead of the novel, the film has its dubious action climax about two hours in, giving us a roughly 45-minute denouement that feels cut from a strangely different cloth. To continue with the fabric analogy, try as he might Fincher is unable to quite make a silk purse out of this literary sow's ear.

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