(David Fincher, 2011, USA)
To catch a killer of women is the agenda for David Fincher’s Western reimagining of Stieg Larsson’s bestselling The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a sleek but ultimately remiss adaptation that plays on the story’s iconography but rarely manages to smooth over the edges of its warring, two-sided narrative. Surely no fault of screenwriter Steve Zaillian, who has penned a punchy, raunchy and vaguely humorous version of the story, nor Fincher, who returns to the thrilling bread and butter he carved for himself with the revered Se7en, Zodiac, and to some extent Panic Room, as well as last year’s tightly wound The Social Network, but the faults lay in its decision to be nothing more than an alluringly faithful depiction of the tale.
Wading through a calmer sea than that of Niels Arden Oplev’s 2009 Swedish outing, the more gritty and ultimately satisfying of the two, Fincher’s Girl strangely softens the rough and memorable edges boasted first time round and replaces them with a cool and collective visual veneer due to cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth’s handsome precision. Not to say the grisly, verbose narrative particulars (savage anal rape, female brutality, etc.) are short of shock and discomfort, captured with a sharp and confining attention to detail that forbids turning away, yet as a whole the film looks passed an exploration of the world it depicts and the characters that misbehave in it and merely projects the story without going into meticulous detail, showing but rarely telling. Suffering at the hands of the novel’s effectively three-pronged narrative structure, which rarely gels together to make a substantial whole, the film cuts from one strand to the next in a bid to amplify the singular tenacity of its two headstrong protagonists, which successfully creates firm tension only to slowly fizzle out when they finally collide.
Replacing a fierce Noomi Rapace, Rooney Mara rises to the challenge as the physically lean, mentally robust Lisbeth Salander, a ferociously capable bisexual and expert hacker battling against her rough past and a cruelly oppressive guardian, who demands sexual favours for monetary ones. Mara, in a revelatory role, is astonishingly engaging as the tattooed Salander, fully holding her own against a strong cast list that spans from Christopher Plummer to Joely Richardson, as well as a competent but unshowy Daniel Craig who, unlike the others, seemingly refuses to lend a Swedish twang to his droll tones. As good as the leads are, however, they fail to ignite the same offbeat spark that Rapace and Michael Nyqvist polished originally, making their eventual hook-ups and the altered, cosier ending seem aloof and unconvincing. What draws the two together? Maybe Zaillian and Fincher, if their comfortable partnership decides to helm the two exceeding instalments, plan to investigate that question more in-depth.
Although it is pointless to compare this retooling with the original, an awareness that Fincher clearly intends to expunge from the memories of viewers of the two, it bears realising that in conditioning this foreign tale of female retribution, murderous intrigue and familial unrest for a Western audience, this version strips away the required thump to warrant a rampant yearning for the next portion, no matter how preposterously spicy the story becomes.