December 18, 2011 4 Comments
Director: David Fincher. Writers: Steven Zaillian. Cast: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Robin Wright
Your appreciation and enjoyment for this film mainly comes down to whether you buy into the story or not and whether you are you a fan of the original book (I should probably say books, since this is the first part of a trilogy). Unfortunately my answer to both questions is quite a drastic no: I know I am going to be quite unpopular with this statement, but I’ve never really fallen in love with the book and I in fact just don’t seem to be able to find the appeal for the actual story itself. I find it quite derivative, exploitive, contrived and a bit heavy-handed to be honest. These exact same problems are translated (in fact even enhanced) into both film adaptations.
It’s probably unfair to draw comparisons with Niels Arden Oplev‘s 2009 version, but also unavoidable. There are of course similarities, but given the fact that David Fincher is directing, the US version is a lot more slicker and cinematic. It is also closer to the original book in many places, but, as always in condensing it all into a movie, it has lost some of its more polemical thrusts from Larsson‘s story and some of the details which made the characters so compelling. All for the sake of the actual crime/mystery plot (which let’s face it, it’s pretty bland for today’s standards and brings very little new to the genre). So in the end, not only the film suffers from the same problems of the book but by shrinking it all it has lost some of its more subtle subtext too.
I am not really saying anything new here: what works in books doesn’t necessarily work movies. For example, the film spends a long time setting up the two main characters who don’t meet until a good hour and 20 minutes into the story. And yet despite all this time Daniel Craig‘s character is just as elusive to the audience as it was at the beginning. That is an ongoing problem with Fincher’s movies. His usual cold approach to film-making and detachment from his characters makes it always very hard for anyone to empathise with anyone on the screen. Craig does bring some unexpected charm and a slight sense of humour to his character (something which was completely absent in the previous version), but it’s really not enough to make you care for his character, let alone for making you want to watch him again for the next couple of sequels (Fincher has recently announced his interest to direct both sequels back to back… But no official announcement will be made until this one get released, of course).
It’s Rooney Mara who really steals the show here (well, let face it, so did Noomi Rapace in the previous version. It’s a great part to play!). This is one of the performances of the year and there will certainly be nominations and awards for her coming left and right over the next few months. She even manages bring a certain realism to an otherwise over-the-top character by convey both fragility and an incredible strength, sometimes with pure simple looks.
However, did we really need that 1 hour and 20 minutes of preparation before these two characters meet? Did we really need to see the infamous rape scene? Yes of course, it’s that rape that gives her the motivation for wanting to solve the crime, but why couldn’t they just convey that with a quick flashback? Why was the audience allowed inside that room watching not only the rape but also her revenge to her rapist? Wouldn’t it have been just as effective and less exploitive if we had been left outside the door, maybe listening to the screams?
The problem is, if you take all that preamble out of the equation, you’re actually left with very little else because let’s face it, as a mystery this is a fairly derivative film.
As I said, these are all queries with the book and the story itself . Given the material Fincher has probably down the best he could. This is a handsome film, with some solid acting (Plummer once again is at his best!) but in the end you’re left with a sense of “…so what?”.
I couldn’t help feeling that everything that Fincher did in this film, he had already done it before.
Finally it’s probably worth mentioning the impressive “James Bondesque” title sequence (again, Fincher has down beautiful title sequences before) to the notes of the cover version of “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin which I found absolutely mesmerizing and yet somehow seemed to belong to a different film altogether.
In the end this film adds very little to the previous version, aside from giving us the wonderful Rooney Mara, and certainly adds nothing to what I already know about David Fincher. I just look forward to seeing him handling a script and a story worth of his craft, because I do believe he’s one of the best directors out there right now…