David Fincher must've been expecting the onslaught of critique when he announced that he would be adapting Stieg Larsson's crime opus only a couple of years after the Swedish version hit our shores. Only once pictures were released of Rooney Mara in full dragon-attire did the moaning die down a little bit, and once positive initial reactions from critics across the pond started to leak the European naysayers started to ease out of the shadows more sceptical than outraged.
Like Tim Burton's reimagining of Alice in Wonderland, or the Coen's True Grit, Fincher has gone back to the source material to create his adaptation rather than relying on it's film predecessor. Thankfully, this is the way to do an adaptation, as the interpretation of the novel is what makes films so intriguing - how many people leave the viewings of these films saying 'what on Earth were they thinking casting him!' (ahem...I am Legend anyone?) or 'that scene was nothing like how I imagined it!'. I am not completely against remakes per se, but I was slightly infuriated about the idea of a new Dragon Tattoo until I heard Fincher was involved. Aside from being one the foremost Directors working today, he's also one of my personal favourites, with a filmography so brilliant it's hard not to list the whole lot when picking favourites - Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac and The Social Network. It has to be said that upon leaving the quiet Richmond Curzon viewing I attended, I was utterly dumbfounded as the film is simply brilliant. Mara has consolidated herself as one to watch, and I wouldn't be surprised if she has a few nominations to her name over the coming months. Her balance of vulnerability and aggression is pitch-perfect albeit aided by her petite stature and cute features. Although Noomi Rapace is the definitive Lisbeth Salander, all brooding and muscle, it has to be noted that Mara certainly made the character her own and left Rapace's shadow within about five minutes of the film's 2 hour 38 minute running time. The new Lisbeth's attire is similarly gothic, although she opts for slightly more modern outfits than Rapace's biker leathers (including a tee which reads FUCK YOU YOU FUCKING FUCK). Aside from Mara's superb performance, the supporting cast in the form of Stellan Skarsgaard, Joely Richardson, Christopher Plummer and Robin Penn is ace, and you'll also see David Dencik, who appeared in the original Swedish version, as well as this year's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. My only gripe with the casting is Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist, who just doesn't seem entirely convincing as the dishevelled hack - afterall, this is James Bond. Michael Nyqvist played the role so convincingly in the original, that Craig never manages to step from his shadow, or even occupy the whole shadow space he left for that matter. Blomkvist should be as vulnerable as Salander, yet we get the impression she needs him more. This is a man who is having an illicit affair with a married woman, has just been publicly humiliated by a city tycoon, is chastised by the media and lost his life savings - he's definitely in a bad place right now. Salander is less icy to Blomkvist in this adaptation compared with the original, and a couple of scenes - Blomkvist's forceful entry into her apartment; a scene on the bed when he is stroking Lisbeth's back under her tee and when pulling his hand away she asks for him to continue as he was - demonstrate this change in their relationship, with him emboding more of an alpha male character than perhaps intended.
Scott Rudin and Fincher decided to keep the action in Sweden rather than relocate to New York or California, and luckily this does not detract from the film at all, and still manages to keep a distance from it's Swedish predecessor. Fincher's cinematography has always been impeccable, and after likes of Seven and Zodiac, he certainly knows how to catch tone and mood in the setting. One of the film's great scenes is a panning shot featured on the trailer as Blomkvist slowly approaches the imposing Vanger residence down a long snowy driveway. All the scenery in Sweden is captured beautifully, and the cityscape of Stockholm is reminiscent of Copenhagen - a very prescient city given the recent Danish crime imports Forbrydelsen and Forbrydelsen 2.
As per the original feature, the violence is still as prevalent with two scenes in particular sending a shiver up the spine - a rape, and the victim's retaliation involving a massive chrome dildo. However, where the original film focussed plenty of time on the investigation of the murders, with Mikael and Lisebeth visiting numerous sites and checking photos against the backdrops, this version was heavier on the relationship between the two leads, and used some of it's spare running time to show Lisbeth's elaborate final plans to exact revenge on one of Mikael's previous enemies keeping in faith with Larsson's novel.
By the time the opening credits roll you know this is going to be another Ace from Fincher, as black oily liquids are splashed and pored over a montage of mohican haircuts, washboard stomachs, spiky dog collars, intricate cogs and spirals and spikes - very moody, very cool, very Fincher. It was a brave decision and one that paid off, and although there are aspects of the original which I preferred, I was aboslutely enraptured throughout the new film's long running time and reckon Fincher's adaptation wins by a hair. Scandanavia is so hot right now, what with The Girl franchise, The Killing, Wallander and coming soon, Joe Nesbo's Headhunters (along with the novels of Larsson, Mankell and Nesbo of course); and from seeing Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it couldn't be hotter.