Disgraced Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) teams with researcher/hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) to investigate the decades-old murder of the young niece of wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer).
Letís go ahead and get something out of the way: Iíve not seen the Swedish adaptation of the first novel in the late Stieg Larssonís trilogy of mysteries. Iíve no interest in seeing it. Truth be told, were it not for David Fincherís involvement, thereís a good chance I would have skipped this version.
Iíve read the book (I bought a copy soon after it was announced Fincher had signed on), and I wasnít exactly knocked out by it. Itís far too long, is so intent on describing the horror of rape that it almost becomes a how-to manual, and loses what little credibility it has whenever some woman throws herself at the main character, who gets so much action he makes the Roger Moore-era James Bond look like a monk. Sure, itís fairly interesting, Salander is a great character, and itís told fairly well, but itís still just a nondescript potboiler. Nothing about the book itself got me excited about this adaptation, but Iíll follow Fincher wherever he goes, so here I am.
Thanks to Fincherís meticulous craftsmanship and Steven Zaillianís script, the movie improves on its source material. Itís not the sort of massive leap you get with, say, Jaws or Blade Runner, but itís an improvement nonetheless. Zaillian trimmed a lot of fat from the plot, and he also made some minor changes to the fourth act (like the book, the story is told in five acts, which is necessary but still a bit odd), making one aspect of the mystery Blomkvist and Salander are trying to solve less obvious. (One of my big problems with the book was that I figured something out very early on and then had to wait another three hundred pages to find out I was right.) But by and large this is still the same story Larsson told, and therein lies the movieís shortcoming: for all its improvements, itís still just an excellent staging of nothing-special material.
Fincher always shoots the hell (yes, thatís the technical term) out of a script, and what you have here is similar to what you had with Panic Room, which is Fincher shooting the hell out of a script thatís solid but really nothing more. The big difference is that while Panic Room petered out toward the end, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is lumpy in its first half but gets better in its second.
Like the book, Zaillianís script doesnít get Blomkvist and Salander together until roughly the halfway point. Before that happens thereís a lengthy setup, with Blomkvist being fed the backstory of the mystery and meeting all the potential suspects, and Salander illustrating why no one likes hiring her but everyone does anyway. Despite having very little bearing on the plot, the latter is more interesting than the former, as Salander is a far more interesting character than Blomkvist. Itís clear Blomkvist was to Larsson what James Bond was to Ian Fleming and Jack Ryan was to Tom Clancy: wish fulfillment.
The Blomkvist of the book is a noble idealist, a crusading journalist who also happens to be irresistible to most of the women he meets. Thatís all well and good, but Larsson either forgot or couldnít be bothered to give him any sort of personality (he also made him more than a little unlikable; Blomkvist apparently never met a woman he couldnít sleep around on), and Zaillian didnít have the luxury of correcting Larssonís mistake.
Craig, playing somewhat against type, is very good in the role, but heís still at the mercy of the character as written. As good as Craig is, during his early scenes I couldnít help but wish the story would shift its focus back to Salander. She is Larssonís only creation of note (I think even those whoíd argue with me on that point--those who give the author more credit than I do--would admit sheís Larssonís greatest achievement), and Maraís interpretation of her is electric. Mara is completely invisible, totally immersed in Salanderís fictional skin.
The movie moves like a demon whenever Salanderís around (and not just because Fincher changes his visual approach and editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall [whose work with the director has now netted them back-to-back Oscar wins] change the movieís rhythm for her scenes, the former using quick, economical shots and the latter two cutting them down to the bare essentials); thanks to its relentless drive and purpose, the hour or so of the movie that has her and Blomkvist working together feels more like twenty minutes.
The climax here isnít as drawn-out or silly as it was in the book. Larsson dragged it on and on, ostensibly trying to make some point about the way men treat women. Fincher just wants it to be as unsettling as possible, and it is. (Hereís how unsettling it is: Remember that scene in Zodiac where Jake Gyllenhaal goes to Charles Fleischerís house? Remember that sequence in the basement? Imagine that stretched out to twenty minutes.) The sequence begins with a rapid back-and-forth cutting between Salander and Blomkvist, one discovering the identity of the person theyíre looking within minutes of the other.
Thereís then a bit of cat-and-mouse between two characters (the sound design in this sequence is genius), followed by a one-sided confrontation with the killer that is very, very talky but is shot and performed in a way that more than compensates for all of the dialogue (the person who plays the killer is fantastic [and very funny]).
Fincher and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth (who took over for Fredrik Bšckar a few weeks into filming; some of Bšckarís work remains in the finished product, mostly in the form of flashbacks) use a wide, often static framing, and they alternate between shots blanketed by shadows and ones bathed in a harsh, sterile white. Itís one of those sequences that Fincher does so well yet does so simply (or vice versa, whichever). Thereís nothing showy or in-your-face about it, but you know it was planned down to the last detail (this is Fincher, after all) and staged with maximum effect in mind. Itís Fincher doing what he does best: finding the absolute best way to handle a scene.
So itís not a great movie (although itís possibly half of one). So what? Without a complete overhaul of the source material, I doubt it could have been. But it is a good movie, the work of a filmmaker who has developed a mastery of the medium in a way maybe only a dozen others have. You can watch it for the story, or you can watch it for the craft; that choice is up to you. Whatever the case, I do recommend you watch it.
The 2.40:1/1080p transfer--encoded with AVC onto a 50GB disc--is close to perfect. Look hard and youíll find some minor moirť and aliasing; itíll likely go unnoticed by most viewers, but itís there. Aside from that, though, this is a beautiful transfer. Fincher and Cronenweth opted for a dark, cold look, one that perfectly complements the story being told; itís full of icy grays and deep, inky blacks, with only a few flashbacks (which are bathed in nostalgic golds and sepia tones) to add warmth.
The image is deep, clear, and razor-sharp. Thereís no crush in any of those blacks; detail and clarity are just as strong in the darkest scenes as they are in the blinding, snow-blasted exteriors and close-ups. Fincher continues his use of digital video here, and he once again proves he knows how to use it better than anyone; it may have started with a digital source, and it was likely manipulated to hell and back, but the final image has the look and feel of film.
Lossless audio comes in the form of a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track (in English and French varieties). As usual, Fincher and his sound team create a seamless, completely immersive, ingeniously designed aural experience. Dialogue sounds fantastic, and its sonic color changes appropriately from location to location. Trent Reznor and Atticus Rossís music is afforded a wonderful presentation.
The entire soundstage is constantly active; thereís subtle (and even not so subtle) atmosphere in every corner (the biting wind that never stops blowing whips in and out), and discrete effects are put to good, often unsettling effect. Bass action ranges from light and tight to explosive (watch out for the techno music in the club scene; itíll burst both your subwoofer and your eardrums if youíre not careful).
English Descriptive 5.1 and Dolby Surround tracks are also included; English, English SDH, Arabic, French, Hebrew, Hindi, and Spanish subtitles are available.
The sole extra on Disc One of this three-disc set is a commentary by David Fincher. Itís your typical Fincher commentary, which means itís thorough, entertaining, and interesting.
Disc Two is loaded with the following:
Under the collective heading The Vanger Archives (230 minutes, HD) youíll find numerous (and I mean numerous) behind-the-scenes featurettes. They cover casting, shooting, editing, scoring, marketing, and virtually every other topic related to the production.
Remember that junky television show Hard Copy? A piece of viral marketing was created in the form of a lost segment from that show, and itís been included here (it runs 9 minutes and is presented in standard definition). David Prior, who directed the piece, provides optional commentary.
A gallery of production stills is also included.
Seven television spots and four trailers (all in high-def) close things out.
The third disc is a DVD copy of the movie. Also included is a code to access an UltraViolet digital copy.
Itís not great Fincher, but it is good Fincher, and that still trumps the vast majority of what gets made these days.