Attentive moviegoers will come away from a showing of the remake of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” with an appreciation of the skills of director David Fincher. A lot of our first class filmmakers are dying off. So the guy who gave us “Seven” and “Fight Club,” “Alien 3” and “Zodiac” and now this version of the Swedish mystery story becomes more and more important to film.
Fincher keeps this three- hour movie alive. He sometimes limits himself intentionally—by using only one pop song, for example, a Led Zeppelin tune that only plays under the opening credits—and he risks everything on an unproven technique by running topic-appropriate electronic sounds underneath most of the murky dialog.
He uses a moving camera to build suspense. He cuts back and forth between the experiences of reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel 007 Craig) and the title character, a damaged, punk researcher named Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Fincher shocks us with a couple of gut-wrenching scenes of torture, but he doesn’t lean on them or drag them out.
He has cast the movie very well. Christopher Plummer and Stellan Skarsgard have terrific outings as the retired (Henrik) and current (Martin) chiefs of the large Vanger family business, headquartered on an island in northern Sweden. Robin Wright is perfect as Blomkvist’s editorial and bedroom partner. Joely Richardson has a fine turn as one of Martin’s cousins, this one living in England to avoid the rest of their horrid family. And its nice to see Julian Sands playing the young Henrik in flash back sequences.
We flash back to a day in the early 1960s when Henrik’s niece Harriet disappeared. The one bridge onto the island was blocked by a dangerous truck wreck, and no boats left the island. So she must have been killed there—otherwise she would have been seen. But who is it that keeps up the girl’s tradition of sending one dried and framed plant to Henrik each year on his birthday?
This is what the old CEO hires renowned magazine journalist Blomkvist to find out. And to tempt him into the job, Henrik offers to produce evidence that will harm the businessman who has just won a big libel suit against our hero. But first the old man hires Lisbeth to investigate Blomkvist. She uses extraordinary and illegal methods in her work, and finds the man generally worthy. But before Blomkvist begins studying the old mystery, Lisbeth is—on her own—already bugging the man who sued him.
She soon goes to work for the reporter, helping him to sort out evidence that young Harriet was aware of a series of murders associated with Bible verses, a series that stopped when the girl herself disappeared. But before they can get started on discovering Harriet’s fate, Lisbeth has a horrifying experience with her government-appointed “custodian”—you see, her sanity has been questioned officially. This business sets up the big moment late in the film. Referring to another individual, Lisbeth asks Blomkvist, “May I kill him?” and we drive on to a fiery and complete resolution.
Unfortunately for Fincher and his fine cast, this is the resolution of a subplot. The director tries to dramatize the resolution of the story about the libel case, but has to do it in shorthand. And the Harriet mystery is probably too easily solved in the end. The late fillip about Lisbeth’s feelings for the reporter are fascinating, and could lead to a remake of the second movie in the series, I suppose.
The reading public’s continuing interest in the late Stieg Larsson’s books about Lisbeth is kind of interesting, because the plots just don’t seem all that new or graceful, and the characters and topics (the relationship between religion and murder, for example) really seem sort of old fashioned. So the fact that Fincher has made “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” into a thoroughly interesting movie is, oddly, the best testimony to his abilities as a director.