Friday, 30 December 2011

Tat's Entertainment: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Review

by Nick Pierce


There’s a persuasive theory about the films of David Fincher. Actually, it’s my own. It states that every flawed or minor work will be followed by a stone-cold classic. Thus we have the creaky Alien 3 followed by the majestic Seven; oddball The Game preceding punk masterpiece Fight Club; solid but unremarkable Panic Room bested by the sublime Zodiac; and occasionally mawkish The Curious Case of Benjamin Button relegated to a footnote by zeitgeist-snaring The Social Network. Sadly, his English-language adaptation of the ubiquitous Stieg Larrson cash-corpse doesn’t entirely buck this trend, but nor does it find its rightful place on the bottom shelf of this none-more-contemporary American auteur’s achievements. Instead, it falls somewhere between the neo-gothic theatricality of Seven and the police procedural nightmare of Zodiac, distinguishing itself for the most part but failing to touch the peaks of those earlier, near-perfect contributions to the modern mythology of the serial killer.

  The story, for those who’ve been living on Mars (well, it’s one way of waiting out the recession), concerns Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist still reeling from a libel case brought against him by a shady businessman whom he has been investigating, being offered an unusual assignment by Henrik Vanger, wounded patriarch of a family of millionaire industrialists with so many domestic issues that no soap opera in the world could possibly contain them. His task: to apply his detective skills to the case of Harriet Vanger, who went missing many decades previously, and whom Henrik believes to have been murdered by somebody close to him. Of course, the real centre of the narrative is Lisbeth Salander, a troubled computer hacker (hello, the 90s) who eventually teams up with Blomkvist in order to provide the additional investigative firepower needed to blow the case wide open. Salander is a sort of pop-feminist avenging angel, who physically brands rapists and chases down woman-killers on her motorbike, whilst engaging in sexually-liberated relationships with both genders. When her character is written down in this sketchy form one might almost take her for some sly satirist’s piss-take of a Guardian reader’s ideal protagonist. After all, she does sound a bit too boldly drawn and pulpy to be taken seriously. It’s testament then to the finesse of Steven Zaillian’s screenplay and Rooney Mara’s performance that Lisbeth works so well on the screen, exhibiting surprisingly shadowy depth and ambiguity for the ‘heroine’ of a Hollywood blockbuster. Indeed, she becomes the emotional heart of the movie, and although Daniel Craig is an effortlessly charismatic leading man and the rest of the supporting cast lend appropriate gravitas, it is undoubtedly Salander’s show.

  Elsewhere, Fincher’s direction is as meticulous as usual, largely jettisoning the dazzling stylistic flourishes of his earlier work (aside from the Saul Bass meets Svankmajer SFX of the opening credits sequence) in favour of a more measured and sober approach that makes its disturbing content all the more affecting. And special mention should be given to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score, foregrounded in the mix so that it crawls and stutters unsettlingly over the scenes, hinting at the barely-repressed violence that haunts its thematic content.
  
  The slightly disappointing aspects are actually less the fault of this production per se than of the novel upon which it is based. Larsson’s plot, aside from the unforgettable Salander, is actually a pretty conventional murder mystery yarn, and I’m not entirely sure why it has captured the public’s imagination where so many other similar whodunits have failed. It relies upon some of the most hoary clich├ęs of the genre, such as the killer inspired by biblical scripture, and once the Harriet case has reached its conclusion the film outstays its welcome by returning to Blomkvist’s initial plot thread in a manner that feels curiously flat and rushed. For Fincher, it seems like a step back after the masterful subversions of Zodiac. The brilliance of that underrated 2007 picture and the South Korean Memories of Murder lies in their recognition that the most compelling part of any crime story is the mystery rather than the solution. As a result, they dwell hauntingly upon the postmodernist mires of unsolved cases where clues fail to cohere and reasons are tortuously withheld; postmodernist mires that can actually kill, and have done so. Conversely, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, although engrossing whilst the investigation is ongoing, effectively goes up in a puff of anti-climactic smoke when it feels the need to explain away every last detail of the enigma by having a succession of involved parties open up about their part in the story wilfully and seemingly for no real reason whatsoever other than a prod from the pen of the author.

  All of this means that Girl ultimately comes across as a stopgap for its maker between more personal projects, and its easy to suspect that Fincher signed on the dotted line as director in the hope of enlisting studio support for more challenging and innovative fare in the future. If so, my Fincher formula might just prove to have legs after all…