Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a recently abased journalist, is headhunted by wealthy patriarch Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his niece, Harriet Vanger. With the aid of unusual research mastermind Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), he embroils himself in a forty-year-old puzzle unlike anything he’s encountered before.
Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, with it’s ever winding central mystery, interesting characters and thought-provoking subtext, always felt cinematic, so it comes as no surprise that David Fincher – long considered by film critics and academics alike to be one of modern-day’s most revered auteurs – felt he could bring his unique filmmaking style to the table and offer an adaptation worth its place alongside the acclaimed novel.
While it’s clear Fincher and screenwriter Steven Zaillian have done their best to concentrate Larsson’s tangled novel as best they can (the narrative here is much more streamlined than its antecedent), it’s still not as succinct as the perfected exterior would lead its audience to believe. The blame for this, however, lies more in the source material than the commendably constructed screenplay, which can only do so much in its efforts to re-imagine the story without losing too much of what made it so captivating in the first place.
The social commentary thread of the novel takes precedent in Fincher’s version, with the mystery component left to become more of an underlying strata that, along with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ tactile and prolific score, acts as the films beating heart – one that’s more than capable of hitting higher, more intensifying notes as and when the narrative calls for it.
This version is more interested in the characters that inhabit the story, where they come from and how they fit together than the investigation of Harriet itself, made obvious by the length of time spent inspecting both Lisbeth and Mikael before they meet. This has the added effect, however, of making the Harriet storyline that much more interesting. When kept to the background, it gains an air of mystique and enigma that is never subjected to harsh scrutiny. Its relegation to a side-story works only to its advantage.
Fincher has always been an extremely visual filmmaker, and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is nothing short of remarkable in its execution. From striking camera movements to atmospheric production design and quick-cut editing techniques, he ensures that every frame, including even those presenting rape and excessive violence, is as visually striking and indispensable as the last. If there’s a director more suited to Larsson’s dark world than Fincher, then it’s not made noticeable.
Mara, who made a lasting impression with her memorable yet diminutive role in The Social Network, proves herself as a credible actress with her zealous performance as the tenebrous Lisbeth. Confident and sexy, yet headstrong in a wouldn’t-want-to-meet-you-in-a-dark-alley manner, Mara owns every scene, creating a Lisbeth that accurately reflects the one Larsson conceptualized in his novel. Not only is it a performance that carries the weight of the film confidently on its shoulders, but one that stays with you long after the end credits draw to a savoury close.
Confined to Mara’s shadow, the supporting cast – Craig, Robin Wright, Joely Richardson and Stellan Skarsgård, in particular – assert themselves with adequate flare, comparatively validating the Lisbeth-less scenes and justifying the dynamic casting choices. They don’t, however, have the level of intense, captivating presence as Mara, rendering them as mere sums of their own parts.
In spite of the issues presented in adapting such disparate source material, Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a worthy interpretation because it offers a more slick and concentrated take on what is, at its heart, an extremely absorbing tale of two people from differing backgrounds brought together by one common goal: “to catch a killer of women”.