There are two words that can doom a film of today in the eyes of many people. These two dreaded words can be applied to this film and yet have had no effect its quality whatsoever which is a very pleasant surprise. The dreaded “Hollywood remake” phenomena has been going on for decades. It’s only in recent times (the eighties and onwards) that scorn has been poured upon them like a fireman having to put out pieces of burning rubbish with his water turning the films into complete damp nonsense. We don’t have to look too far to see this happening whether it was the remake of brilliant Swedish horror Let the Right One In or back in the eighties to the Richard Gere remake of Godard’s Breathless. With these films as evidence it would be reasonable to be a little apprehensive about a remake of another Swedish film that actually bagged an BAFTA for best “Film not in the English Language” (not that you would have seen that award because of idiotic people high up putting that bit in the “also awarded” section at the end of the programme) and is generally considered to be the best possible screen creation for Steig Larsson’s world.
All of this usual apprehension can be abandoned here thanks to another two words that are often the saving grace of contemporary Hollywood cinema. David Fincher. One of the few genuine auteurs working in Hollywood who has yet to make a poor film, Fincher is the perfect director for this film. The themes he often explores are a perfect parallel to Larsson’s and therefore the two fit like a hand to glove. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo sits alongside nicely with the likes of Fight Club, Seven and Zodiac as gritty neo noirs of the best kind. Taking inspiration from these early Film Noirs and transposing their style to the 20th century has been a gift of Fincher’s for over ten years. Here though he mixes his already beautiful filmic style with that of another director. The effect of being in Sweden has clearly brought out some of the Ingmar Bergman in him and made a lot of his shots (especially his interiors) seem like clean and empty modern photographs of isolation and despair reminiscent to Persona as well as other Bergman masterpieces.
Story wise, the film has a solid foundation in Larsson’s original prose, which are some of the best of modern thriller fiction. We follow the dark but enjoyably intriguing lives of two people. Lisabeth Salander is a shy but strong computer hacker who clearly has a tough past while Mikael Blomkvist is a disgraced journalist who’s employed to investigate the disappearance of a girl from a rich but dysfunctional business family. Daniel Craig is fantastic as the subdued and reserved Blomkvist while Rooney Mara switches from feisty to delicate within the blink of an eye. Their relationship is extremely watchable and is also something that would work well in a television series. Their paths eventually cross and the team work together to solve the Chinese puzzle of a mystery. It’s compelling watching and the narrative structure is totally solid bar the last fifteen minutes of revenge upon the first businessman which feels admittedly tagged on but with Craig and Mara being gripping characters it really doesn’t matter.
In many ways the film works as a polar opposite of James Bond. It does star the current 007 but it works around the usual pitfalls of the Bond franchise and is all the better for it. It seems transplanting half of Bond’s characteristics (the violence, the womanising etc.) to Lisabeth works wonders both for narrative and character development meaning both end up being far more likable than the smarmy and sexist 007. Even the superb opening titles (sound tracked by Trent Reznor and Karen O singing Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song) could be from a dark parallel world where James Bond has been reinvented properly for the 21st century leaving all the cheesy stereotypes and one liners at the door.
The only real downfall of the film is it’s portrayal of sexual violence. Though it’s a vital theme of Larsson’s work (the author himself having written the books as a release of the guilt he felt of witnessing the gang rape of a fifteen year old when he was younger) the film seems to be slightly confused in what it wants to show almost as if it can’t decide how much it can get away with being a Hollywood film. The first rape scene feels like it should end almost as it begins with there being a pan out of the bedroom door in a very similar fashion to Hitchcock’s Frenzy. However instead of leaving it at that as logic dictates it should, it goes straight back into the room to show a further few minutes of the extremely brutal scene which is easily the most shocking in the film. It does feel a tad gratuitous but at the same time it also feels necessary to the plot and also the theme of crime against women of which the whole story revolves around. It’s just a shame it can’t decide whether it wants to commit to it or not.
Overall though this is a minor detail in a superb film. Going against all expectations of what a Hollywood remake of a European film can be, Fincher has pulled off yet another gripping thriller to add to his rich and monumental back catalogue and his remake of sequels is something that should be much anticipated.