Political journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) has just been released from prison, wherein he was serving a short time for making falsely proven claims against successful businessman Hans-Erik Wennerstrom (Ulf Friberg). With his reputation in tatters, Blomkvist accepts an offer to lay low for a while, looking into the family history of Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), specifically the disappearance of Vanger’s granddaughter Harriet from their remote family island 40 years ago. Meanwhile Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), the young, socially isolated hacker Vanger hired to research into Blomkvist’s background, has to deal with her own personal issues – a new, abusive, government-appointed guardian for one – before she too becomes an integral part of Blomkvist’s case.
Over at French Toast Sunday we’ve been celebrating the work of David Fincher for David Finchuary. As Fincher’s remake of the Stieg Llarsson novel of the same name was on my Most Anticipated Movies on the 1001 List, and I’m working my way through said shortlist this year, it made for a perfect opportunity to sync up both websites. However, due to the length of the film and my ever decreasing levels of organisation I only found myself watching said film in the last few days of the month and, whilst I managed to write a short piece for it over at FTS before the deadline, alas my own site will just have to deal with a slightly late post. Slap on the wrist and all that. All being well I’ll get the films for March done relativel quickly, although seeing as they’re both going to be quite long – longer than this one even – I should probably get my act into gear! Anyway, if you’re a fan of David Fincher I highly suggest having a peruse of the posts from last month over at FTS, as between us we’ve covered almost every aspect of his career – although for some reason we managed to miss out The Game entirely. More’s the pity.
Right, back to the film. Whilst in my youth I absorbed every book I could come across, particularly if it had anything to do with Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams, since I’ve joined the working masses, and even more recently started blogging, I’ve found my fiction-reading time has significantly dwindled, which of course hasn’t been helped by my recent delving into A Song of Ice and Fire (I’m up to A Feast for Crows) and my reluctance to cancel my subscription to Empire magazine. That being said, I have managed to squeeze in Larsson’s trilogy – granted it took a few years to fit them all in – and I’ve even gone so far as to watch Niels Arden Oplev’s Swedish version of the first film – the theatrical release, not the extended television one. As I recall I loved the book and couldn’t put it down, despite it being rather heavy, whereas the first film didn’t have much of an impact on me. It wasn’t necessarily terrible, I just felt it lacked a punch that the book had. I’m sure the extended version is much better, but I doubt I’ll ever get around to watching it, or the sequels, because really who has the time? Fincher’s version, however, is terrific.
Fincher could well be my favourite director of whom I’ve never seen a film in theatres. I hope to amend this horrific oversight this October with the release of his next work, Gone Girl (another adaptation, and the next non-Westeros-based book on my to-read list), but as yet I’ve never seen anything he has made on a screen bigger than a few feet. This isn’t because I haven’t wanted to see his films in the cinema, far from it in fact, it’s just been a case of bad timing every time. Seven remains one of my favourite films (I wrote a piece on that for French Toast Sunday too) and elsewhere the likes of Zodiac, Panic Room and Benjamin Button are all films I thoroughly enjoy. I desperately need to re-watch Fight Club, Alien³, The Game and The Social Network, all of which I’ve criminally only seen once and, in the case of Alien³ and The Game, can barely remember. That being said, Fincher remains an interesting, engaging and impactful director, justifiably earning the coveted first month of director-worship over at FTS. I feel that’s enough digression, maybe I should start talking about the film.
As I mentioned, I really liked it. I’m generally a fan of innovative or creative opening credit sequences, and Fincher is quite well know for his. Tattoo is no exception, with a truly disturbing montage of an oily substance – possibly oil – being poured over computer keyboards, wires dancing an airborne ballet to the back of someone’s head, insects crawling from screaming eyelids and writhing, Bond-esque nudity, all set to a cover of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song. It’s pretty much the perfect way to kick off this film, and I do not disapprove. Similarly, before I get into the film I feel like I should mention the trailer, which is also phenomenal and well worth checking out. It uses the same song (covered by Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Karen O.) and was one reason I was so excited about the film. The Muppet parody is also genius, as was the sly nod to Reznor and Ross in the film – look out for a Nine Inch Nails t-shirt.One thing Fincher always achieves with his films is excellent performances from his actors, and with Rooney Mara he may have achieved his masterpiece. As Lisbeth Salander, the borderline anorexic goth hacker, she is completely unrecognisable from anywhere else you may have seen her. Rake-thin and pallid, with a perforated face and a frankly terrifying fringe she utterly embodies the role, not just aesthetically but with her mannerisms too. She tends to avoid eye contact – a meeting with a client has her sitting as far from him as possible, in a chair facing away from him – and whilst she is obviously uncomfortable and awkward in any kind of company – be it a social or business situation – she is still very driven, and has a bizarre confidence that comes from truly not caring about the opinion of those around her. She doesn’t not care in a selfish manner; it’s more like their feelings or thoughts simply don’t concern her. Daniel Craig is also good as Blomkvist, but he has less of an extreme character, so regularly falls into Mara’s shadow through no fault of his own. The relationship that builds between the two throughout the second half of the film is well developed too. Salander is initially fearful of Blomkvist – her research into him was deeply private and very illegal – but he is accepting of her, on a level you feel she hasn’t necessarily experienced before. However, Salander continues to bear a level of contempt or even pity towards Blomkvist, made especially clear around his laptop. When she sits beside him using it, you can see her physically cringing at the comparatively clumsy manner he uses programs without shortcut keys, and later he awakes to find her using it, exclaiming that the files are encrypted, to which she replies with a sullen “Please.”
Potentially my favourite relationship between the film – at least in terms of a story arc – is that between Salander and her court-appointed guardian, Nils Bjurman. It is by no means a pleasant relationship – he is in control of her finances, and will allow her access to her funds only in return for sexual favours – but it allows Salander to showcase her vengeful side, and in a truly magnificent manner. These are the scenes in the film that are the most difficult to watch, especially what Bjurman puts her through. There is one scene that doesn’t go exactly as Salander had planned, and it causes her to run for the door, which is promptly shut in the camera’s face by Bjurman. It is at this point that I breathed a sigh of relief, as having read the novel I knew what was going on behind that door, and was grateful to be spared witnessing it on screen. The next shot we see is Lisbeth waking up on the bed, presumably after the deeds have been done. Nope. She’s just coming to from being knocked to the floor, and she – along with us – has the whole ordeal ahead of us. We need to see it though, as by the end of the film it makes the vengeance enacted against Bjurman all the more satisfying. Also, I was actually more repulsed by Lisbeth’s tattoo artist, whose mug-sized flesh tunnels in his ear left me nauseous.
There’s some familiar faces amongst the supporting cast – perennial British “that guy” actor Tony Way plays Salander’s equally reclusive hacker “colleage” Plague, and Julian Sands and Alan Dale both crop up for tiny roles. One of the problems I had with the Swedish film was that the whodunnit mystery aspect was too easily solved by the viewer, as only one potential suspect was given any kind of screen time. The same could be said here but to a much lesser extent, as once again the primary focus is on the eventual culprit but there’s plenty of time given over to the other suspects as well. The key to making these kinds of mysteries worthy of repeat viewings, at which point the viewer should remember the outcome of the plot, is to include enough outside of the story to keep the audience engaged, which is why Fincher is a perfect choice as director. There’s plenty of stylistic choices, some beautiful cinematography as well as the aforementioned wonderful acting performances, meaning I’ll be going back to this one far more often than other rudimentary Agatha Christie-like adaptations. It may not necessarily be anything ground-breaking amongst Fincher’s career – story-wise it covers similar work to Seven and Zodiac – nor is it amongst his best films, but this is still definitely worth a watch. I am surprised at its inclusion amongst the 1001 List, but seeing as it provoked me to seek it out and watch it, I can’t complain too much. And if nothing else, I’ll never listen to Enya’s Orinoco Flow in the same manner again.
Choose Film 8/10
The most shocking thing to me about this piece is learning that it’s on the 1001 list. I loved Fincher’s version and have been meaning to re-watch it for a little bit now (will do soon, for sure), but I agree that it’s more-or-less just a very well-made whodunit – not the kind of film that’s going to be seen as essential by anyone outside of completists.
I might even knock my score up to 9, if only because of how much it was the adaptation that I so desperately wanted. Even if the fake accents bothered some people.
There’s definitely a possibility for this to raise up to a 9 after a re-watch or two, when I’ve picked over everything that’s going on. It is, as you say, a very well-made whodunit, but it rises above thanks to the direction. I think Zodiac has more grounds to be included on the 1001 List over this. You might be surprised that Benjamin Button is on there too.
Huh. You and I are just about the opposite on this. I liked the Swedish original because it addressed some of the weakness in the novel (especially the ending). The remake unfortunately kept the ending from the book, while bizarrely changing an earlier reveal to one that made no sense plot-wise. I gave a positive review to the remake, but I consider the Swedish version to be the better of the two because it doesn’t destroy the strength of Lisbeth that was built up the entire story.
I know what you mean about the bizarre earlier reveal – I’d forgotten every little point about the ending, and I actually managed to somehow second-guess that direction. Don’t ask me how.
I have to disagree about this being a weaker ending because it follows the book. I don’t think it destroys the strength Lisbeth built up through the story at all. If anything, It simply shows she has grown in terms of being able to have a relationship, but she hasn’t yet developed the necessary levels of understanding wherein you can establish the place you are in a relationship with someone else who may not be in the same place romantically. I greatly prefer this ending, and found it satisfying both here and in the book, but I know there are other people who agree with you too.
I love both versions. They are not identical and have different strengths and weaknesses. Fincher is an absolute strength, btw. I do like his version better, but by a very slim margin.
It seems I may have written off the Swedish version. Maybe I will go back and watch it again.
Great review! I really liked this film and I hope Fincher (or someone) makes the sequels. Fincher has the ability to make his dark films still feel very adventurous and compelling.
Thanks Robert. I’d like to see the sequels too, but I don’t know if they’ll ever get made again because the story lines aren’t as strong as this one. I’m sure Fincher could do something interesting with them though.
I liked Fincher’s version of this story, but it’s a lot tamer then the Sweedish version. Lisbeth’s abusive guardian in the Swedish version is a lot more crueler and evil then the American version and that scene when she is attacked is just shocking because the camera doesnt cut away. When it’s revealed who the bad guy is and Lisbeth chases him down, the outcome is different in both versions. In the American version the car flips over and the bad guy is trapped. Lisbeth cocks her gun and proceeds to walk over and shoot him but before she does, the car explodes. In the Swedish version she gets to the car and see the guy is trapped and begging for his life. She looks at him like a trapped bug in a jar with no chance of escape. She lights a match and sets his car on fire. The fact that she stops and makes a decision if she should take this man’s life is very fascinating. The extended versions are all good and I highly recommend seeing all of them. Nice Review.
Thanks Vern, I’ll definitely check out the extended Swedish version.
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