Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m late.
In my defense, I tried to go on opening night. Life gets in the way, but finally, after three attempts and some hurt feelings, I made it to David Fincher’s warped retelling of Stieg Larrson’s masterpiece.
Where to begin? With Fincher’s masterful direction? With Rooney Mara’s Rapace-rivaling performance? With the slick Trent Reznor score and the bizarre opening sequence that blends symbolism from Dragon Tattoo with iconography from Hornet’s Nest and Played With Fire in a rorschach smear of sentient black ink? This is a gritty reboot of a gritty foreign film based on a gritty novel by a dead man, and it works. God help us, it works. Gritty.
In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I’m biased. I read all three of the books while traveling in India and saw the three original Swedish films killing time in my parent’s basement. (I’m that guy, yeah.) I’m in love with the story and characters already, so any retelling would probably earn a positive review from me. Little bonuses like Lisbeth’s reference to “The Girl Who Played With Fire” or Plague’s Nine Inch Nails T-shirt (Reznor, who composed the score, is the mastermind behind NIN) are icing on the cake. As much as it pains me, I’ll focus on the minor issues that I had with the film rather than spend three more paragraphs gushing about how fantastic it was. Bear with me.
First, a warning. True to the book, this film contains scenes of torture and rape that are excruciating to watch. Some people left the theater at a certain scene that those familiar with the story can probably guess, but, ugly as they are, these sequences are necessary, and I encourage those with strong stomachs to grit their teeth and watch. It only strengthens the viewer’s sense of justice, indignation, and vengeance. It is necessary that we share these emotions with protagonists Salander and Blomkvist throughout the second half of the movie. For there to be justice, there must be injustice, and in the end, it’s worth listening to Bjurman say “I think we ended things badly last time” to see Salander pull out a taser and respond, “me too.” That being said, you’ve been warned. After shooting the scene referenced above, the actor who portrayed Niels Bjurman spent the day locked in his hotel room weeping. The shoot had caused him genuine emotional trauma.
On a slightly less horrific note, those who dedicated hours of their lives to reading the original novels will probably not mind the runtime, (which by my estimate was closer to three hours than two) but casual viewers might. Extended sequences of Blomkvist (portrayed by James Bond, still using the pseudonym “Daniel Craig”) and Mara’s Salander conducting research, flipping through photo archives and generally “working” could have been cut down to make the film more accessible to mainstream audiences. I’d like to emphasize “could” rather than “should.” These pregnant pauses between the violence and action were part of what made the book a good, meaty mystery. They cut them down to size in the Swedish film, but I didn’t mind them in Fincher’s version. I can’t say the same for the rest of the theater. I sensed restlessness.
Speaking of the Director, it’s great to see Fincher return from Oscarland (The Social Network, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) to psychological thriller country (Se7en, Fight Club). Fincher has excelled at making more audience friendly films, but his unique directorial style bleeds through more explicitly in projects like Dragon Tattoo. An interesting signatory touch might have been relocating the setting from Stockholm to whatever crumbling, soulless city Fight Club and Se7ven are supposed to take place in. People would have howled, but they were also upset when Noomi Rapace was replaced with Rooney Mara. (Even though Rapace explicitly stated that she was done with the role and this film looks like a sure star-maker for Mara.) If you’re going to do an adaptation, you might as well bring something new to the table other than Hollywood actors and English. A bit more of the Fincher touch would have been welcome.
David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is great but imperfect. Still, in time, it will probably overshadow the Swedish films as well as the books. There will come a day when the fact that Lisbeth Salander was originally the creation of a Swedish Journalist and not a Hollywood focus group will be trivia. It’s the way of the world, but it really is demeaning. It’s as though a story must “make the cut” to be worthy of the honor of being translated into the same medium that we use to watch Stomp the Yard 2. (Homecoming.)