Sourced from a dark, dense and twisty plot architected by the late Swedish novelist Stieg Larsson, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo arrives in cinemas as sharp and unwelcoming as the jagged cliff face of star Daniel Craig’s iris-slicing jawline. Craig will go down in history as the Mean Bond, the one for whom martini charisma took a back seat to salty pouts and dagger eyes, and that frosty, impenetrable countenance is bang-on for the role of investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist, the unruffled protag in Laarson’s story of a missing person investigation and the somewhat diabolical circumstances surrounding it.
There was never any doubt Fincher had the fangs to helm a faithfully grisly adaptation. His back catalogue of racy, pacey thrillers (Se7en, Zodiac, Panic Room, etc) and his current flavour of the month afterglow from gong collector The Social Network bodes well on paper and, as it turns out, even better on screen.
Having sold more than 20 million copies in 41 countries and spawned three popular features, Laarson’s blockbuster books, dubbed the ‘Millennium’ trilogy, were published posthumously (he died of a heart attack in 2004) and became the biggest sensation to come out of Sweden since ABBA. If Waterloo had accompanied the film’s already infamous rape depiction, jangling out of speakers while the scene’s toad-like perpetrator ignores the squeals of his victim and goes about his disgusting business, there’d be no estimating the psychological impact of the shock; but alas — Fincher keeps Sweden’s greatest sources of pop-tainment over the last half century in their respective playpens.
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When the story begins Blomkist has been disgraced in court by a crim. Blomkist was right, Christopher Plummer sagely intones (can Plummer intone any other way?) but stumbled trying to prove it. Plummer plays plush elderly patriarch Henrik Vanger, whose niece Harriet went missing almost half a century ago. Vanger hires Blomkist to try and figure out whodunit after others have failed — an old man’s last chance at finding closure. Blomkist teams up with a young, gruff, hardened shell of a hacker, Lisbeth (Rooney Mara), and together they prior open a closet of skeletons, some of them too fresh for their fancy.
When Fincher holds his frame in sterile-clean upper-crust abodes he captures a steely creepiness paralleling The Social Network’s moments in exclusive university clubs. There is a vacuous, ghostly energy that wafts through their hallways and rooms.
On top of a cast of whiskey sharp performances and the kind of visual aplomb we’ve come to expect from Fincher, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo surprises with its snappy pace and tempo, a rhythm maintained with stealthy determination. At 158 minutes it’s epically long; there isn’t, however, a dead scene in it. The film is paced so well Fincher moves over with alarming quickness one of the major plot points: the resolution of the very mystery that launches the story. No matter: passing two and a half hours with no slow spots is an achievement deserving of a narrative sacrifice or two.
It was always going to be a challenge to equal the terrific hands-off performance from Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth in the Swedish adaptation, and no amount of screen testing could have guaranteed Rooney Mara anything close to a draw. But miraculously Mara turns in a beautifully cloned the performance, the introspective nature of her frosty no-guff character resonating perfectly.
As for Craig, the man with the dagger eyes and the dangerous jawline, this is one of his stand-out performances and a fitting example that context matters for presences as imposing as his. He’s not entirely convincing as a journalist — what editor would dareth set Daniel Craig a deadline? — but Blomkist is a journalist in the same way Tintin is a journalist: a living magnet to attract and diffuse trouble. Craig fits the jet black material like a glove, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is as coldly enigmatic as the man himself.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’s Australian theatrical release date: January 12, 2012.