Film review by Jason Day of the American version of Stieg Larrson’s thriller, directed by David Fincher and starring Daniel Craig.
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Journalist Mikael (Craig), currently in the Swedish news for a major libel case, is hired by wealthy industrialist Henrik (Plummer) to investigate the murder of his teenage niece some 40 years previous. No body was ever recovered, but Henrik is sure she did not leave the island were his family lived at the time. Mikael’s investigations, helped by a young computer hacker (Mara) lead him to uncover some disturbing familial activities.
Stieg Larrson’s trilogy of books, of which this was the first, gripped readers across the globe. This Hollywood movie version followed a Swedish film that went down very well in 2009 and launched the career of Noomi Rapace.
No surprise to see that Fincher was the man in charge of the clapperboard duties, given the relentlessly grim and dark tone of the source material, fitting in perfectly with his style of work.
Thankfully, he has not opted for the usual Fincherian visual style of dimly lit rooms and shadows with only the occasional peak of light, but the look here is none the less bleak, all crisp and uniform snow, fluorescent lighting and the requisite stygian murk around a corner.
The opening credits are quite mind-boggling, looking like they belong to another film, possibly the Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies. This is a disruptive, noisy opening that chimes badly with the rest of a film that is quiet, studious, almost contemplative.
It could be explained by the fact that James Bond himself plays the leading role, oddly the only member of the cast speaking in an English accent. Everyone else attempts an interpretation of Swedish.
Craig’s usual dead-eyed and somewhat dreary muscularity actually stands him in good stead for this role and it’s an arresting turn when he finally starts working with the extraordinary Mara as the abused Lisbeth, Mikael’s nemesis turned lover.
Almost unrecognisable since her role in Fincher’s The Social Network (she played Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg’s dumped girlfriend), here she is startlingly matter of fact, forward and precocious. The scene where she makes sure the social worker who has raped her never forgets what he has done is squirmingly well realised, due in most part to her dead-pan, functional delivery.
The support cast is top-drawer all the way down; Plummer, Skarsgard (‘Swede for hire’ in LaLa Land), Wright, Richardson, Berkoff – all great value.
The only issue I have with this movie is its mighty duration. 158 minutes is patently ridiculous, particularly when one considers that certain aspects clog up the narrative and whack on extra time (the complicated financial sting at the very end of the film adds little to the plot and could have been left out entirely).
It also makes it difficult to concentrate on the intricate, minutiae of detail the two lead characters look into to solve the mystery. Photos from a myriad of perspectives, dusty and archaic employment records and hazy testimony from people who may or may not have glanced an event nearly half a century ago.
Be prepared for a long haul, but the fraught ending makes some amends for the audience’s patience and bladder endurance being so sorely tested.
Cast & credits
Director: David Fincher. Columbia/MGM/Scott Rudin Productions/Yellow Bird Films/Film Rites/Ground Control. (18)
Producers: Cean Chaffin, Scott Rudin, Soren Staermose, Ole Sondberg.
Writer: Steven Zaillian.
Camera: Jeff Cronenweth.
Music: Trent Reznor, Atticus Rose.
Sets: Donald Graham Burt.
Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorick van Wageningen, Joley Richardson, Geraldine James, Goran Visnjic, Julian Sands, Martin Jarvis.