Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Geraldine James, David Dencik, Goran Visnjic and Joely Richardson.
Running Time: 158 mins.
Seen at: Didsbury.
On: Wednesday, 28th December, 2011.
With the festive period sadly drawing to its conclusion, this Hollywood adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s sensationally popular trilogy of novels, under the inventive directorial eye of David Fincher, is a world away from Christmas jollity. It’s bleak certainly, and bitterly pitch-dark in its tone, but never using methods that feels depressive. It’s a fiendishly complex thriller aimed solidly at adults, featuring a completely original entity - a radically different, new kind of heroine squarely in its centre.
The most striking aspect of the whole notion of this production, is the fact that the unfairly dubbed ‘Hollywood Machine’ – (continually used terminology that does not in any way reflect the great reputation of the ever-changing face of the industry) – have found a necessary appetite for releasing a mainstream remake in such quick succession after its Swedish predecessors. It is a real testament to the phenomenally international appeal of the original source material, particularly when tackling such hard-hitting subject matter.
The most unique element which really sets this narrative apart when compared with the plots of other contemporary thrillers, is the stark antithesis between its two protagonists. Mikael Blomkvist, a supposed ‘ordinary’ private investigator, whose intentions are seemingly straight-laced but may be more inclined towards vendettas of moral ambiguity, contrasted against this deeply damaged social pariah, a rebellious outcast in Lisbeth Salander, a delinquent product of the post-punk era.
Blomkvist is hired by reclusive Industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Harriet, a young relative of the family whom he is convinced has been murdered. His only contact with the outside world is being the recipient of a pristine white rose mounted in a photographed frame, from a mystery culprit every year for thirty years, on Harriet’s birthday, presumably from her killer…
To help Blomkvist establish the facts, Vanger recounts: ‘You will be dealing with thieves, misers, bullies, the most detestable collection of people you will ever meet – my family’. It’s from there that he crosses paths with computer-hacking expert Lisbeth, skilled with an instant photographic memory, but peculiar-looking – laden with piercings, a shaven head and the serpentine tattoo to which the title refers.
To say her past is checkered is a major understatement – her sexuality is completely open to dangerously high levels, throughout her life she is subjected to a catalogue of senseless and violent abuse.
It is at this stage I must emphasize that several scenes are not for the faint hearted – the sequences depicting the sexual abuse Lisbeth goes through are among the most highly explicit I’ve seen. They are shown rather graphically, which does make for occasionally uncomfortable viewing as do the sequences of sexual, pseudo-masochistic torture when the perpetrator finally endures his comeuppance. They boarder on gratuitous levels, and yet sadly, do seem somewhat relevant – if not necessarily integral – in order to make the plot plausible.
Fincher directs in his inimitable style of ensuring that the cutting-edge, at times ultra-modern proceedings rattle along at breakneck speed, which counts in the film’s favour considering it runs for over two-and-a-half hours, but actually goes very quickly, feeling far less. The narrative’s thematic darkness is mirrored by the suitably dreary cinematography that drains the colour from the screen.
Steven Zallian continues his and Fincher’s trend set by The Social Network, with rapid-fire delivery of dialogue that hits you like a freight train, but really does terrific handling of condensing a mammoth novel into a taut, succinct screenplay. As well as the disturbing imagery of violence against women and twisted ideas of gratification with religious, ritualistic undertones, there are much-needed hidden droplets of razor-sharp wit – not least Blomkvist’s foul-mouthed, novice attempts at using a laptop.
Daniel Craig makes for a mild-mannered everyman as Blomkvist, in a role that could be interpreted as just bookish and dull. It’s a real counterpoint from how he’s usually seen – almost an anti-Bond.
Newcomer Rooney Mara has already earned a Golden Globe nomination for her uncompromising portrayal of the enigmatic Lisbeth, which for whatever reasons will inevitably have comparisons with Noomi Rapace’s very different interpretation just a year before. She’s a difficult character to contemplate in many ways, not least because nothing whatsoever like her has gone before – which is a big attraction for readers. Joely Richardson is among the best supporting talent, bringing a great sense of vulnerable fragility to her character – even if the finally revealed twist has more of an anticlimactic damp squib than a surprising sting in its tale.
Speaking of Craig as Bond, the bizarre opening titles sequence feels heavily reminiscent of Bondian credits, with nude silhouettes of oil-drenched women that is either oddly exhilarating or blatantly unsubtle – either way, it ultimately has no bearing on the film itself. It is however accompanied by Trent Reznor’s trademark droning thump of a soundtrack.
With distributors already pushing ahead with plans for Fincher to continue helming the next two chapters of the saga, it looks as though the current cult craze of the Millennium Trilogy is set to be around for a while. An intense, visceral viewing experience that’s as memorable as it is impactful.
Rating: * * *