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