Director: David Fincher
Cast: Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright
Plot: A disgraced journalist (Craig) is hired to investigate a dark family mystery involving the disappearance of a young girl. He seeks help from the enigmatic and dangerous Lisbeth Salander (Mara).
I have always wanted to get around to checking out this story. It is a trilogy of books, written by the late Stieg Larsson, which has already gotten its own three film marathon in Sweden (starring the terrific Noomi Rapace) and had an American version of the first book. It seems silly that it has taken me this long to throw myself into this story. I tried reading the book once, but it was a little too heavy for me at the time (two reasons: it was my first attempt at using a Kindle and I later learnt, while watching this film, that I had been reading the final book, which explains why it made little sense). Finally, though, I found this film and decided it was time to embrace the mystery.
First thoughts: there is a little too much story. It is a common problem with film adaptions of books, especially the ones that focus on a deep, running mystery. The thrill of a book is usually slowly uncovering the answers and a lot of film is about either Daniel Craig or Rooney Mara pouring over documents or laptops, looking for the clue that could crack the case wide open. While I really enjoyed the story, I must admit that a lot of the running time was a slow, methodical chasing down of leads. At least it handled its content a lot better than Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy did. The other problem was that there were a lot of characters. I felt I would have appreciated this film more, if I knew a little more about the potential suspects. I felt some more red herrings were needed to make the final twist that little bit more powerful. There were some interesting ideas, but as the film almost breaks into the three hour mark, time was clearly running out. I appreciated that, at one point in the film, Daniel Craig’s character jokes about how there are too many characters to keep track of.
There are also two endings in many ways. We get to the reveal of the killer and get a terrific climax. It is everything we want from this kind of story (Fincher was never going to mess it up though, was he?), and I really enjoyed the torture scene, especially with the choice of music in the background. However, afterwards, there is still a lot of exposition to cover. Therefore, the movie ends and we still have around twenty five minutes of the characters trying to rush through every last detail, before the movie runs out of time. This is the kind of thing that a book would be able to relax through in a final chapter, taking its time to tie up every character arc, but in a movie, as soon as the serial killer is revealed and removed, the audience is kind of ready to leave. I think it partially hurts the movie, or at least suggests that reading the book might be a more enjoyable experience.
However, the best thing about this film is, surprisingly not the mystery, but the character of Lisbeth Salander. She is the ingredient in this story that makes the movie and books memorable. She is totally unlike anything we have seen before from a movie heroine and that is what makes her such an exciting character to follow. Visually, she is surreal to look at. She comes across as an outsider, with her many piercings and spiky, black hair (a fitting symbol for her actual personality). A lot of this film is spent between Mikael Blomkvist delving into this story and then randomly jumping to this character. The first hour passes without her affecting the main storyline in any way, whatsoever, with the exception of some early exposition. Salander simply goes through her own character arc of being thrown away from her legal guardian when he has a stroke and given to a nasty social worker, who has complete control of her funds. I spent a lot of these sequences wondering what their point was. How does she tie into the actual mystery? However, this was never a problem. She is such an interesting character to follow that in all honesty we preferred spending time with her than Blomkvist. Her storyline takes her to some dark places, but somehow it comes across as unmissable, as our eyes are unable to pull away from any scene she is in.
Most of this is down to Rooney Mara, the girl in charge of portraying this role. Her performance is absolutely amazing. For one, it is such a brave character for any actress to take on. She handles some dark material, spends a few scenes unashamedly unclothed and has such a different way of thinking than anyone else, she must have been tricky to emphasise with. And Salander was already a tough role before all of that. Mara nails it all though, despite only having bit roles before in things like ‘The Social Network’ and a painful ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ remake. Her matter-of-fact way of speaking gets some of the biggest laughs in the movie (I chuckled at her final sex scene in the movie), and when she turns into a deadly angel of darkness, it is a thrilling transformation. I also loved her relationship with Blomkvist and how her abrupt and concealed way of showing emotions shoots her in the foot, when she realises she has the chance to be finally happy. The ending is both beautiful and sad in its own way.
What about Daniel Craig? I don’t think he will be remembered too much for this movie, mainly because Rooney Mara acts him under the table. For one, he doesn’t try too hard with an accent and by the midway point in the movie, we kind of forget that he is meant to be Swedish. He also spends a lot of time, as I have already said, investigating and reading, while Rooney Mara gets a lot more fun stuff to act with. However, I didn’t hate his performance. For one, I enjoyed how, despite most of us knowing him as bad-asses like James Bond, he doesn’t ever play on that. Daniel Craig is probably the first Bond I have been able to look at and think something else other than ‘he is James Bond’. Blomkvist is not much of a fighter and there is an amusing scene, where he messes up sneaking around a house at night. He needs the female to come and save him several times. So no, while it’s not a ground-breaking performance, it is good in its own way.
So overall, the story gets a little too big for its own good, but the characters, especially Salander, hold it together. However, at the end of the day, the film was always going to struggle with the content. Fincher handles the book very well and, in all honesty, this is the kind of book that was always going to have a movie adaption. It deserves one and this movie is worthy of that honour.
Final Verdict: A good adaption of the book. Yes, you might get a bigger thrill from reading the novels, but David Fincher and Rooney Mara weave a terrific tale from the story.