David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011) – DVD & Blu-ray review
The material’s a little too obvious for Fincher but he embraces the opportunity to play at being the auteur of unease with some dark-hearted ‘entertainment’
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
(David Fincher, US, 2011)
There’s always been a tension in David Fincher’s work between his serious, art-house leanings and his instinct for pulp thrills. On the one hand, there’s the overrated hipster Bible of Fight Club, the topsy-turvy life story of The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and the gleaming modernism of The Social Network. On the other, how about the popcorn exhilaration of The Game or Panic Room? Occasionally, Fincher strikes gold with material that is poised on the knife-edge, like Se7en or Zodiac, genre thrillers that are put through their paces so comprehensively they become troubling dissections into the darker impulses of humanity.
With The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Fincher completes an unofficial trilogy of serial killer movies by making the most Fincher-esque film imaginable. The pulp comes from Stieg Larsson’s messily structured, sensationalist thriller; the art-house comes from Niels Arden Oplev’s wintry, acclaimed film adaptation. In Fincher, we have a director who can impose his will to retain the ambience of the latter even down to the Swedish setting, and still make a mainstream film about a body-pierced force of nature whose reaction to being anally raped is to return the favour with interest.
Reference points to Fincher classics abound: the Biblical serial killer of Se7en; the cold-case crimes of Zodiac; the glare of The Social Network’s computer screens. It’s his most recent film that provides the key artistic personnel – composers, editors, cinematographer – and the film has the same buzzsaw music score and synaptic montages as Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander combine to solve the crime by scrolling through lots of websites. (Incidentally, there’s a thesis to be written about Fincher’s reclamation of the cerebral detective in the visual medium of film. There isn’t a director alive capable of beating him at making scenes of people sitting down and reading look incredibly dynamic.)
The material is hard-wired into Fincher’s DNA, which makes it such a shame that The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo lacks the depth or narrative intrigue to compete. At heart, this is a functional whodunit given its unique flavour through Larsson’s heightened outrage at misogyny. The central partnership isn’t forged until the film is halfway through, Blomkvist and Salander pursuing separate stories linked by the slenderest of thematic chains – namely, as the book’s original title puts it, “men who hate women.” This approach provides plenty of insight into Salander’s character, and gives the ending a greater sense of triumph, but Fincher is hamstrung by the fact that Larsson treats his subject with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The villains here are characterised entirely by their hatred of women: one-dimensional, spineless sadists all.
Thank goodness for Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig, who provide a compelling double-act once they meet. What’s most interesting is that Fincher’s customary edginess translates here as a fidgety impatience with the film’s first half, the heroes’ parallel stories edited with brusque disdain, two halves not quite interlocking because these characters need to be together to make their music. Until then, Craig’s Blomkvist is urbane, cool, very old-school Scandinavian (and slightly out of his depth), while Mara’s Salander is a dysfunctional, anti-authoritarian punk (who gets things done). Put them together, and the film’s rhythms ease onto well-oiled tracks.
Still, there’s plenty of trademark Fincher irony and leftfield flourishes, with a convincing case to be made that this is a sly satire of James Bond. Why else cast Daniel Craig as an all-too-flawed, often weak-willed, leading man who is rescued and seduced by the girl, and not the other way around? This is the most subversive of love stories, where it’s the metrosexual, elegant man who is chased by a stereotypical bad girl – who herself turns out to be the most honest and self-aware person around.