By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright and Christopher Plummer
In the early 90s, after Jurassic Park the novel was a success, someone asked the late Michael Crichton who the ideal director to bring his vision to the screen was. He replied, without hesitation, that the man who was his first choice, without a doubt, was Steven Spielberg. Now, even though he is now deceased, I am willing to bet if you asked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo novelist Stieg Larrson which American director would do the best job in bringing his book to the screen in the States; his answer would more than likely be David Fincher. After all, Fincher is the man who took the formula that a gruesome, crowd pleasing film called Silence of the Lambs implored, tweaked it a bit, and brought it to a hip, younger generation with a little film starring Brad Pitt called Seven. He also took what should have been a joke of a concept, a movie about Facebook, and made it into the captivating hungry-for-greed drama called The Social Network. Now, he was faced with a much different challenge. He had to take a book that was already turned into a successful Swedish subtitled film, and make it into an American audience crowd pleaser, all the while not tarnish the source material it is based on. As much of a successful career that Fincher has had, this task sounded like it was meant for the doom that turned into his first feature film shoot from almost twenty years ago, Alien 3, where he just couldn’t win no matter what he did. Did Fincher meet his challenge this time?
As a fan of both the novel and Swedish film this title is based on, I would have to say yes. This being the most commercial piece of filmmaking he has done since The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Fincher shows every reason why he may very well be the best director to come from music videos, even putting that experience to use by opening the film with a very Bond-like title sequence. Very often in the 158 minutes of this film, Fincher stages white knuckle suspense and tension that I guarantee, whether you have seen any of the source material or not, will have you on the edge of your seat. Of course, it helps that he has surrounded his film with a cast that is not only very capable, but also very well put together. Daniel Craig was a wise choice to play disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist, a man who is not only trying to hold his life, but also the magazine he help runs with his sometimes lover Erika Berger (Robin Wright) called Millennium together. Christopher Plummer does well in his role as Henrik Vanger, the man who hires Blomkvist to find his niece Harriet, who has been missing for forty years. He gets so worked up when talking about her at times that his eyes well up, and he makes you feel the pain of what it is like missing someone in your family for that long. Finally, the person who really brings his A-game is real life Swede Stellan Skarsgard, who after years of lingering in Hollywood, has finally found a role he can sink his teeth into. He walks around and questions Craig’s Blomkvist like a man on a mission, and it’s fun to see him put his screen presence to use in a film like this.
Of course, the character that everyone will be talking about in this film is computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, played by Rooney Mara. After putting up with an unsuccessful movement led by film critic Roger Ebert to get the actress who portrayed Salander in the Swedish film Noomi Rapace to reprise her role, and beating out every coveted actress from Natalie Portman to Ellen Page to win it, Mara proves that Fincher’s initial instinct to hire her was the right one. Mara has wisely restrained from studying Rapace and not put out a carbon copy of what she did in the earlier film. Instead, with her lithe body and big black earrings, Mara has become the character herself, and it is never uninteresting to look at her. Another thing that struck me about the film is the chemistry that both Mara and Craig have with each other, which really shows once they finally meet. See, for the first hour or so their lives run parallel, and Fincher never lets you forget about one or the other for too long. He does this by using techniques such as ending a scene with Mara, and then immediately showing Craig looking out a window, foreshadowing and making us look forward to their inevitable meeting.
It is this work of style and atmosphere that will, inevitably, get Fincher more well deserved praise as the best atmospheric director in the business. He also shows that he is a man of his word and knows no restraint when it comes to the violence that needed to be portrayed from the source material. Both he and Mara have been very vocal about the fact that Fincher is not going to hold back during the rape scenes that are in the source material. And, indeed, he makes them as they should be: almost unbearable to watch. If I do have one complaint about the movie, it is the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Once again teaming with Fincher after their brilliant Oscar-winning score for The Social Network, this score, while adequate enough, felt very bland when moving the film along. The only highlights were the themes played during Salander’s initial appearance in the film, adding distortion and noises to make her seem more mysterious. The score they did for The Social Network not only hyper-extended mood for scenes in that film, it also set a standard that, sadly, could not be matched with this one.
This very minor complaint aside, Fincher has again proven to people that he is up to any task Hollywood puts before him. With his constant cuts to rain and snow, and many cigarette smokers in the film filling rooms with smoke, Fincher sets a mood that always keeps the viewer at unease. He also chose a leading lady in Mara who is more than up to the task, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a triumphant piece of filmmaking, with a script by Steve Zaillian (who also had a hand in adapting Moneyball) that sticks super close to the book, even adding an ending that fans of the source material can appreciate. The work of a constant crowd-pleaser and master of his craft, Fincher can now show his film knowing that much like Crichton did Spielberg, Stieg Larsson would have approved the end result.
4.5 out of 5