The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher, 2011)


Rooney Mara (Lisbeth Salander), Daniel Craig (Mikael Blomkvist), Christopher Plummer (Henrik Vanger), Robin Wright (Erika Berger). Screenplay by Steven Zaillian. Directed by David Fincher. Rating: 18. Running time: 158 minutes.

To all the phoney ‘purists’ who stupidly decided to prejudge this remake, I wish to begin by saying Fuck You. You have been made to eat your hats and I will relish watching it, but I’ll soften the blow to your dogmatic original-loving bullshit preferences by joining in on the apologies. This is necessary because I see that, laughably, in my review a year back of the Swedish version of this film, I wrote that “the Hollywood remake to come will [inevitably] be ever so slightly toned down”. The review is otherwise a poor one, so I’m not going to help you to find it. But I’m delighted that I wrote this line if only so I can now smile at how wrong I was. This film has an 18 certificate stamped on it for a reason. Somehow, Fincher twisted Columbia’s arm and convinced them to let him be as explicit as the story deserved. The result will be a loss of revenue, but also the creation of a film that is no doubt ten times the better for it.

It has to be said that in general Fincher seems to have held things back here. There’s little of the bravado and boisterously loud filmmaking that coats The Social Network. He barely seems to get out of first gear. But has he nevertheless made a fine film? Well, of course he has. As he always does. He has made a film that is neither great nor groundbreaking yet that still manages to be one of the best of the year (for me it’s probably a toss-up with The Tree of Life). And he seems to have done it with his feet up.

In a handful of scenes the temptation apparently grew too large, and he couldn’t resist showing us once more what a master he is. I mean primarily that brief nightclub interlude and the torture scene, but also the preceding bout of anal rape that in an indescribably sick way manages to be quite incredible in its pure animalism. Not just in the repulsive doggy position, you understand, but in the speaker-busting shrieks of pain from Lisbeth as she’s destroyed by this sexist savage of a man. Add Reznor and Ross (who also soundtracked The Social Network) as providers of the pulse to these vulgar visuals – the deep beat throbbing through the violence – and you start to see how Fincher can fuse the perfectly appropriate sounds and images effortlessly. This scene shouts ‘LISTEN! If I want to make my movie jump then I fucking will, and you’ll shiver at the sight of it’.

Which is precisely what we do. The visuals are as crisp as the characters and climate are cold, and as always with this story and loopy Stieg Larsson world, we’re left looking at and thinking about Lisbeth. She’s an invincible bitchy Batman with superwoman capabilities, packed into a tiny but explosive mind and body of vengeance. Mara masters her. Despite modest claims that she had to do little but turn up and follow Fincher’s lead, she evidently put everything into this. The smooth girl-next-door beauty of Erica Albright has gone, and in her place? An albinoesque punk with sandpaper skin wrapped in coal black hair and eyeliner. She looks like she ate little but Big Macs and drank nothing but coke for a month, and yet the effect is an absurd one. For all her leather jackets, nose-studs and roaring motorbike sprints across the snow, she will arouse all men as much as the sight of Marilyn stripped naked. She drops her pants on Craig and despite having Rachel Weisz as a wife, we know he will have happily partaken in this ‘work’. Her body being frighteningly ultra-thin and intensely tattooed is confusingly beside the point.

And Craig is, in contrast, as sturdy but bland as Blomkvist should be. He goes about his detective work in that Fincherian fashion we know so well from Seven, and here’s the cue for the trademark sequences of pure proceduralism, the admiration of investigation for investigation’s sake that also pervades Zodiac. But in comparison to those two masterpieces this side of Dragon Tattoo is a mute one. Fincher has stayed largely loyal to the original adaptation, but the one notable difference is a drastic dilution of the plot details, in exchange for what feels like a greater emphasis on Lisbeth and her male demons. It has been said before, but Men Who Hate Women really would have been a fine title for this film and novel, even if it sounds less destined to catch on and pervade popular culture. Or, indeed, the reverse – Women Who Hate Men – would do quite well. After all the crimes we see here, they’d certainly have reason for repulsion. Perhaps that partially explains why, despite her bisexual frolics, Lisbeth still seems so overtly lesbian. This holds true even after a new, final scene cleverly and quieting suggesting the opposite: her feelings for Blomkvist become deep and genuine.

There are problems. After the narrative’s ‘climax’ things seem to go on for far too long, and insofar as the material has by now become so popular, a sense of disappointment at covering old ground is inevitable. And yet Fincher’s take on the first leg of the trilogy still manages to be a badass boiling pot of vengeance, erotica, cybergeekery and sadism all stirred in together, and the product is funkier than an amateur Swedish director could ever dream of mixing. The opening titles alone are hipper than most films manage to be in their totality. The only question is – will Fincher carry on? The answer seems to be No, and rightly so. Any sequels will be old territory even moreso now. This is more than enough of an insight into his take on the Larrson world, and I thank him for it. Go. See. Enjoy.

The late Christopher Hitchens wrote a brief piece on the background to Stieg Larsson and his politics. It is, as ever, worth reading, before or after encountering the magnificent Millenium invention.

NYTimes scene breakdown here.

David Denby of The New Yorker putting my appraisal to shame here.

Neils Arden Oplev being an envious dick here.

Representative trailer here, and that outrageous Led Zeppelin cover in full here.

One Response to “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher, 2011)”

  1. I do hope (as, I imagine, would Hitchens) that in writing the “repulsive doggy position” you’re referring to it specifically w/in that context. otherwise, great review, as always

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