‘I can’t take it anymore,’ mourns Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) after he receives another pressed flower reminding him of his torture. Almost immediately Karen O’s cover of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song then plays over an anarchic, Bondian credits sequence, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s tone is firmly established.
Tauter and sleeker, David Fincher’s version is so impressive an upgrade on the 2009 Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s bruising novel that even Lisbeth Salander might say ‘thank you’.
Smarting from a libel loss, Daniel Craig’s journalist Mikael Blomkvist is summoned by Vanger to his home in Hedestad to investigate the 40-year unsolved murder of his niece Harriet. Promised damning evidence to aid his libel appeal, Blomkvist explores the ‘detestable’ Vanger family, eventually with the aid of punk hacker Lisbeth (Rooney Mara).
Benefitting from a bigger budget, Fincher’s gritty version is more filmic than Niels Arden Oplev’s equivalent, which resembles a TV movie more as a subsequence. Steve Zaillian’s script wisely eschews dwelling on Lisbeth’s past and although the film’s too long, this is not the fault of the tidier screenplay.
Jeff Cronenweth’s unmistakable cinematography from Fight Club and The Social Network heads outside from dank apartments to confront the biting Swedish winter with chilling gusto, but he is definitely the indoors type. This is exemplified by the key scenes involving rape and the victim dealing with the aftermath.
These are visceral to the point of genuine discomfort. Some attendants had to exit their screenings briefly, so traumatic was the scene composition and Mara’s display of helpless distress. Yorick van Wageningen, who plays the predatory perpetrator Bjurman, admitted that he locked himself away in his hotel room sobbing after filming it.
Mara is sensational. Her unassumingly dry humour and quietness for someone so loud in appearance are juxtaposed considerately within an exceptional performance. Whereas Noomi Rapace lacked likeability, Mara’s incarnation is sweeter and more affecting, that slight frame and shyness draws greater affection and ironically yearns for mollycoddling.
Support is strong too. Craig exudes a bumbling charm whilst rocking chic investigative garb for the middle-aged man in one of his best roles for years. He revels outside of the PG-13 comfort zone taking on grittier roles – be it a bleeding Bond, a roughed-up drug dealer or a crestfallen hack, the greater the demand the greater the performance. And on the subject of great performances, Plummer’s is a deliciously concise turn that, like Mara, balances gravitas and jocularity expertly.
Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor return to augment Fincher’s atmosphere with another understated score which encompasses the Scandinavian wilderness and mystery lurking within the Vanger estate. Meanwhile the use of Sail Away will have tarnished whatever affection you may previously have had for Enya’s finest.
Disappointingly the whodunit factor is ignored when the film may have benefitted from the fillip of tension. But as an impartial and moderate examination of femininity, it is a fascinating dissection of female vulnerability and determination.