Trespassing on 007’s territory, the opening-credits sequence to David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo sees wires swirling, melting and reforming as an oily black liquid to create ultra-smooth, cybersexual impressions of the main characters’ faces appearing and disappearing. The message from the director of The Social Network and Fight Club is clear: this is a more slick, more expensive, better-looking but no less provocative spin on the first novel in Stieg Larsson’s all-things-to-all-readers Millennium Trilogy.
Some may be surprised at how similar Fincher’s version is to the 2009 Swedish film in plot and mood, and even Fincher can’t avoid stretches that feel like souped-up Nordic television drama. But fans of the book and film should rest easy at how this Dragon Tattoo is still inherently a Swedish tale – set and partly shot in Sweden – and Fincher doesn’t flinch from the sexual violence at its core.
Daniel Craig gives a relaxed Sunday of a performance, with appropriate knitwear, as Mikael Blomkvist, the disgraced journalist (essentially Julian Assange, if he was likeable) hired to uncover the secrets of an old industrialist family with a Nazi past, while Rooney Mara (who had a small part in The Social Network) tears it up as Lisbeth Salander. Mara is prettier and more fragile than Noomi Rapace, but she’s also more dead behind the eyes, more haunted. Her Salander character gives her body over to Blomkvist in two brisk, forceful sex scenes – but never gives him a hint of a smile. It’s a storming performance that gives the film its soul.
As you’d expect from Fincher, the storytelling is immaculate; and he negotiates a mix of accents, all speaking English, with little distraction. Yet whatever bells and whistles you hang off this tale, there’s no escaping that its murder mystery element is fairly pulpy and unremarkable. Still, Fincher showed in Se7en and Zodiac that a hunt for a serial killer is a story template that allows him to go far in exploring character and atmosphere, the latter of which is ramped up to no end here by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s discomfiting score.