Director: David Fincher
Cast: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Stellan Skarsgård
Spoilers Within: Yes
For every Zodiac there’s a Panic Room, for every Se7en, there’s The Game. This isn’t meant to be as derogatory as it sounds, but there’s a noticeable gap in quality when it comes to David Fincher, even when his weakest are assuredly more enjoyable that most directors’ entire outputs. This gap is far less obvious to me now that I’ve revisited The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a film I disliked upon first viewing for languishing in misery, and yet, with other films like The Social Network, they’ve always been bested upon a second viewing.
Fincher’s adaptation of the Stieg Larsson’s grungy crime novels is much more potent than I first gave it credit, and though my main problems are still existing – more on those later – it’s actually the positives that hit me more this time around.
For starters, there is no one who does gloomy, grey despair quite like Fincher. His characteristic eye is so specifically morbid that it absolutely lends itself to films like this: a hugely mature, hard-18 rated thriller that refuses to shy away from the most unpleasant scenes, and very rarely makes these scenes seem dispensable. Fincher’s Se7en is an absolute high-point in cheerless despondency, and this rubs off throughout his entire career, including the cruel rape scenes here (both the first and the retaliatory). Though these are seen by many as perfunctory, exploitative plot points – and they are slightly more eroticised than they should have been – the result is a repulsive ugliness that permeates the whole film.
The moodiness declared by the sinister cold open and the thumping titles is layered thick throughout, but never in a way that counterbalances the rest of the film’s dingy personality. It’s unified with a thankfully scarce amount of gallows humour, and just the right amount of mysterious procedural that, thematically, it all feels proportional. Sadly, this feeling doesn’t carry itself all the way to the finish, as once the core mystery has been solved there’s a needlessly complex appendix which doesn’t gel with anything that came before and also contains one of my main problems with the film in its treatment of its main character: Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). The scene with her buying a gift for Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) already felt bizarre considering the cost of a replica jacket, but to have her forlornly stare at Blomkvist and Robin Wright’s Berger (who I’d argue was a worthless character to begin with) only to dump the expensive gift in a skip diminished her individuality to that of a needy teenager: the exact antithesis of who she was prior to that scene. That solitary minute of this 150+ minutes film puts Salander into a generic box, without much care for the repercussions of her identity. It’s such a shame that this final coda was inserted, as Salander had the closest thing in the film to a full arc.
With Fincher’s deeply gorgeous and brooding visuals as well as his typically pessimistic worldview, he gives The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo a necessary texture, resulting in a film that feels far more adult and less sensationalist than the Swedish adaptation. Despite moments of insincerity toward the characters – and it going on just that little bit too long – this re-watch has paid dividends and has made me wish to revisit those of his catalogue that I wasn’t enamoured with on first viewing.