When it was released in North America, the Swedish adaptation of the Steig Larssen novel made my Favorite Fifteen list, so I was intrigued to see how the North American version would compare. I certainly didn’t it expect it to match the first one, especially when you consider the powerful performance Noomi Rapace gave as Lisbeth Salander – even with David Fincher directing.
Was I ever surprised by Fincher’s take on the story!
Working from a brilliant screenplay by Steven Zaillian, Fincher’s take on the story focuses more on what I’ve come to understand is really a classic locked room mystery in the Agatha Christie mode – in the case of the murder/disappearance of Harriet Vanger, the locked room is an island whose sole entry point is blocked by an overturned tanker truck – that is concealed within a study of unlimited misogyny and sidetracked into the discovery of a serial killer.
The opening section of the book and the Swedish movie – the story of how investigative journalist Mikael Blomqvist [Daniel Craig] is laid low, career-wise, by misinformation – is dispensed with in a very brief prelude to his being hired by Henrik Vanger [Christopher Plummer] to find out who murdered his great niece, Harriet. Salander [Rooney Mara] thus enters the picture much more quickly as the investigator of the investigator – hired to thoroughly vet Blomqvist for his prospective employer.
As a result, we also get to the meat of the Salander character’s situation in regard to her being a ward of the state – and the brutality that follows when her legal guardian has to be replaced when he suffers a stroke. Her rape and resultant vengeance are thoroughly but efficiently presented in a way that glorifies neither, and will be unsettling precisely because of that.
Another benefit of getting to the heart of the story so quickly is that we see Salander and Blomqvist become a team much more quickly. The chemistry between Craig and Rooney is certainly palpable – and made even more so because Craig forsakes any of the charismatic traits of his more heroic film characters and is, frankly, amazed and confused by Mara’s force of nature take on Salander. When she pounces on him in his bedroom, he is utterly baffled, and it comes across as completely believable.
The ending is the same, in intent, as the Swedish film, but changed in a way that makes it more resonant with the both the film and the book.
Technically, as you might expect with a Fincher film, Dragon Tattoo is beautifully shot and quirky in unexpected ways [the use of Enya’s Orinoco Flow, for just one perfect example]. The cinematography [by Jeff Cronenwerth] captures the chilly beauty of Sweden and sets the perfect tone for the film.
The score, by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, is spare, bleak and beautiful in unexpected ways – and enhances the film in the kind of subtle ways a score is supposed to [pay attention, John Williams!].
Considering how few people saw the Swedish version, I’m a bit amazed that Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo hasn’t been a huge hit. It’s as good a film, and there are no subtitles. If you loved the book and the first film, like I did, you will not be let down by Fincher. If you’ve only read the book, then you should love Fincher’s film.
Final Grade: A+