Here’s a theory for you to disregard, completely: David Fincher makes alternately classic and merely very, very good films. Alien3, Very Good. Seven, Classic. The Game, Very Good. Fight Club, Classic. Panic Room, Very Good. Zodiac, Classic. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Very Good. The Social Network, Classic.
To jog along with this fanciful notion a little further, an argument could also be made that these ‘only very, very good films’ are also the more accessible, populist ones, combinations, as they are, of huge star names and franchises. By this rationale, his latest, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, coming off the back of a classic and based on a series of exceptionally popular novels, could only ever by simply very, very good.
The theory works.
On the back of losing a libel suit, journalist Mikael Blomkvist accepts a missing person’s case from wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger. The case – old, buried and going nowhere – centred around the disappearance of Vanger’s niece. With many of the Vagner clan reluctant to speak of it, Blomkvist will require some assistance to get to the truth. Assistance that would preferably come from someone sporting ink in the shape of a mythical reptile…
For anyone who’d ask, this reviewer was convinced, sight unseen, that this year’s Academy Awards would play out between The Help and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It would be a repeat of Forrest Gump versus Pulp Fiction. The awful, saccharine and thematically suspect versus the adult, thought-provoking and worthy.
One man shooting holes in this proposal was Fincher himself, deeming The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to have, “too much anal rape for the Academy”. Perhaps, given that even the consensual botty sex of Brokeback Mountain was beaten by the atrocious Crash, but Oscar voters have proven that they can go dark if the movie earns it. Midnight Cowboy, The Godfather: Part I and Part II, The Deerhunter, Silence of the Lambs, while The Departed‘s win showed the Academy loves nothing more than to scream to the rest of the world, “America does it best!”.
The truth is, the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo isn’t quite good enough to be one of those “How can it not win?” movies. That’s not to say it shouldn’t be heavily rewarded in certain areas, with acting and photography top of the list. DOP Jeff Cronenwerth doubles up on his grand work from The Social Network – cementing him as a name for casual film fans to drop alongside Roger Deakins and Wally Pfister – giving the film that ‘every frame is a picture’ look.
And the acting is simply phenomenal. In much the same way you didn’t see Noomi you only saw Lisbeth, Rooney Mara nails the part. It’s a different Lisbeth, arguably one of the most iconic movie character of the 21st Century, to the one before. No better, no worse, but with one neat addition. Mara delivers the trademark Fincher dark humour moments (John Doe clarifying he didn’t kill the dog, Jack’s sickle cell anemia class) with aplomb.
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The other half of the duo, Daniel Craig playing Bond with a Brain Blomkvist, showcases his talents in a way that poop like Cowboys and Aliens never can. It’s a long time coming but when Mara and Craig finally share a screen the film bursts to life. It’s a shame the next two stories necessitate a Starling/Lecter style screen sharing because we could watch this pair Butch and Sundancing, never leaving each other’s side from opening credits to closing.
Fincher and producer Scott Rudin can name their casts, and in doing so have littered the smaller parts with great actors putting in great performances. Chief among them is Christopher Plummer, the second hardest working octogenarian in Hollywood (Clint just pips him), as the one (almost) sane member of the Vanger clan.
The credits sequence, meanwhile, made up of black leather melting to the sound of Karen O tearing Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song a new one, sets a benchmark for originality that the rest of the film can’t match.
It’s not writer Steve Zaillian’s fault that his script is so similar to the 2009 screenplay from Arcel and Heisterberg. That’s the nature of adaptation. You find what you want to say from the book and say it. All those with a pen in one hand and the novel in another found they wanted to tell the same tale. At the very least it shows that, in any language, the novel has a power like few others.
A perfectly put together puzzle, but of a picture you may have seen before. Mara and Craig are electric when sharing the screen meaning the two sequels would be welcomed with open arms. What is arguable is whether or not David Fincher needs to helm them himself . If he does, you can expect The Girl Who Played with Fire to be a classic, while The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest to be merely very, very good. Well, it’s a theory.
Release date: Monday December 26th
Cast: Daniel Craig (Casino Royale, Enduring Love), Rooney Mara (The Social Network, A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) ), Christopher Plummer (The Last Station, Beginners), Stellan Skarsgard (Good Will Hunting, Dogville).
Director: David Fincher (The Social Network, Seven).
Screenwriter: Steve Zaillian (Schindler’s List, Moneyball) based on the novel by Stieg Larsson.
Running Time: 158 mins.