I’ve not been looking forward to writing my review or impressions of the 2011 version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. This is because I haven’t seen the 2009 original (and nor will I) and I have no interest in reading the Stieg Larsson Millennium trilogy on which it and any sequels are based. However, set against that is David Fincher, a director whose recent films have had me spellbound. The Social Network, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Zodiac are among my favourite films of the decade. I have Fincher Fangirl credentials. I’ve been lucky enough to hear Fincher speak at the BFI and I’ve seen him on the red carpet at Cannes. I’m looking forward to his interpretation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea just as I’ve been keenly awaiting the release of Dragon Tattoo. Despite the fact that it’s not the sort of film I would have seen otherwise. This ‘review’ is very much, then, a personal impression.
Forty years before the film is set, a young girl, Harriet, disappears from her wealthy family home on an island in the north of Sweden. All these years later, her great uncle Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) hires journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and computer hacker and investigator Lisbeth Salande (Rooney Mara) to discover whom amongst his relatives on the island was responsible for her murder. Of course it’s not that simple. Blomkvist needs to get away, having just been disgraced in court. Lisbeth is another kettle of fish entirely. Having been judged as mentally unfit to look after her own affairs, she’s the ward of the state and victim to such corruptions of the system that it’s a miracle she has any sanity. For her too, this case is an escape and a means to an end.
The case itself forms the frame for the film and offers the cold, bleak setting of an icy island for its location, but it is only one aspect of the story itself – the fragile and not particularly sympathetic recovery of Blomkvist and Lisbeth as well as their connection with each other. This lack of focus in the plot hampered the thriller element for me. Nor was its solution a surprise.
According to the poster – which I cannot stand – ‘Evil shall with evil be expelled’. I’m not entirely certain to whom or what the second evil refers. I hope it’s not supposed to mean Lisbeth, although the way she’s displayed on the poster, I’m not so sure. Lisbeth is a victim for all her fighting against it and this poster glamorises the predation that has fed off her. Rooney Mara, however, is sensational and completely scene-stealing. I feared for her and loved to see her free on her bike. Daniel Craig as Blomkvist is not as entirely successful. For one thing, he is the only character that I noticed not to be given an accent. Why? Is it because he couldn’t do it? He does manage to put Bond behind him – he can be hurt and he can be killed. It’s always good to see Christopher Plummer.
Dragon Tattoo‘s composer Trent Rezner also composed the outstanding soundtrack for The Social Network. I didn’t need to know that. The music was so similar, and so less good, that I could have guessed. Throughout I was reminded of another, better film.
All this brings me to my problem with Dragon Tattoo. It is a good film and it kept my attention despite its length. It is visually arresting and some of the acting is fine indeed. The opening credits to the wonderful Led Zeppelin Immigrant Song adaptation is fantastic. Indeed, considering the story, which is not my type of thing at all, I liked it much more than I would have expected. However, I have no idea why David Fincher made this film. Zodiac was a far better investigation of a serial killer as well as a completely immersive recreation of a past time and place. Se7en was far more frightening and memorable. The Social Network was extraordinarily original and witty and Benjamin Button was, for me, utterly bewitching and draining. Dragon Tattoo, for all its qualities, is a remake and it will always be compared to the original. Ironically, if it had been directed by someone else, I may have been far less critical of it (that’s if I had gone to see it in the first place, of course).