I almost but not quite regard the time I spent reading Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy as time wasted. I’d been told that I’d find them compulsive page-turners, but in reality, the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, struck me as weirdly draggy, as the author described shopping trips, love trysts, business affairs, all pedantically spread out over a one-year cycle like a Harry Potter book. The series only started to get exciting on the second book, and I don’t know what led me to even give it a chance, but it did develop into something gripping as Lisabeth Salander’s own story started emerging. The third volume is just ridiculous, with its albino giant invulnerable to pain (I guess he’s a kind of caricature of Swedish Nazism), but pretty good fun.
I stopped watching the Swedish adaptation of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO after it became clear that it was just going to repackage the book into an endless series of micro-scenes, none hanging around long enough to develop any dramatic meat on their bones — movie as stripped-down spine. So I was kind of wary of David Fincher’s Hollywood remake, a movie which could theoretically be dismissed as redundant by anyone who can read subtitles. Would this be another bland PANIC ROOM, or worse, a BENJAMIN boring bastard BUTTON?
It’s not, but it’s not a FIGHT CLUB or SOCIAL NETWORK either — I’d say it’s work-for-hire in which Fincher has been able to invest some real interest, not purely as a technical exercise in grafting Brad Pitt’s head onto a dancing baby. Like the novel, it’s a pulp potboiler with pretensions, but Fincher uses cinematic language considerably more deftly than journalist Larsson used prose, at least in translation. With its slick surfaces (dig the Ikea torture chamber with its colour-coordinated power tools!) and gliding camera moves (resisting, this time, the urge to fly ghostlike through a kettle’s handle or a night club bannister), the movie is consistently pleasurable to the eye, and the soundtrack, not just Atticus Ross & Trent Reznor’s buzzing, throbbing score, but the whole mix, with its fifty different kinds of wind, is a triumph — this movie wants very badly to be seen on the big screen.
It’s not perfect: Fincher’s tendency to include a cutaway insert every time somebody picks something up, puts it down or throws it away, is a Svankmajer-like tic than gets a bit annoying once you notice it (and arguably detracts from the power of the one key object discarded in the last scene). One the other hand, Fincher can do restraint: he includes numerous slick shots of Salander’s bike slicing through Nordic nightscapes, but holds off a POV of onrushing road until the last act.
Performances: while it’s nice to see Geraldine James, Steven Berkoff and Martin Jarvis (!), the actress playing Salander naturally gets the lion’s share of one’s attention. It’s to Larsson’s credit that he somehow made the quasi-autistic, kickboxing, computer hacking, physics genius, bisexual bike riding damaged goods into a vaguely convincing pulp fiction heroine. Admittedly I didn’t really watch Noomi Rapace’s origination of the role, but I did glance at it as Fiona was watching, and found her riveting — if the film had been able to keep up with her, it’d have been a wild ride. Fiona declares the new version to be even stronger though, so there you have it:
Mickey Rooney Rooney Mara is an even better Salander.
Daniel Craig is quickly becoming the go-to guy for those who find Clive Owen just a bit too effervescent, Liam Neeson too irksomely perky. But he works here, as Larsson’s transparent self-portrait business journalist / loverboy. At least he doesn’t look like a baby potato. Robin Wright makes the most of her scattered moments of screen time… the only odd thing about the acting is that the Swedish accents, already an odd choice to my taste, are somewhat inconsistent. Craig doesn’t really bother with one, Rooney’s is exemplary, and everybody on the TV news programmes sounds like the Swedish Chef. Also, the written matter seen in the film varies between Swedish and English, seemingly at random.
Stephen Zaillian’s script is largely faithful to the book, but prunes away much excess and tightens ingenuously. “At least you’re not going to prison,” is a brilliant line that not only hacks away an unproductive diversion in the book, but lets us know in advance that this has been done. Intact are all the uncomfortable little references to Blomkvist/Larsson’s poor physical condition, prefiguring his tragic/absurd early death right before his books saw print. And Zaillian wisely jettisons the whole discussion about suppressing the killer’s identity and never revealing his victims’ fates, in order to protect the Wennerstrom family business. This distasteful scene rather gave the lie to the whole book’s thesis, about the wickedness of misogynists or something. We’re meant to believe that the hero believes business interests are more important than letting the victims’ families know what became of their daughters. We’re also meant to believe he has the right to make that call, despite being in business with the Wennerstroms himself. And we’re meant to believe that Salander, herself a victim of misogynist violence, would go along with it. That’s one smart script edit right there — the question of publicity simply isn’t mentioned, and we don’t wonder about it.