I never pass a verdict on a David Fincher film until I’ve seen it at least twice – Fight Club taught me that lesson. Now that I’ve seen this one twice, I can give it a proper review and verdict: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a very, very good film with a central flaw that prevents it from being truly great. It’s not the masterwork that The Social Network and Zodiac are, but it is nevertheless a wonderful film to stand among Fincher’s incredibly impressive filmography – one that is surely the best in the industry.
Let’s talk about what the film does right before we discuss the flaw, shall we? The most noteworthy success of the film is the picture at the top of this review: Lisbeth Salander, and more importantly the actress who plays her. The character itself is the most interesting part of this film – not the (admittedly gripping, to a level few thrillers these days are) murder mystery at the center of the film’s plot, but the person working to solve it. Salander has a survivor’s instinct to her that is somewhat common in films today, but the grudging acceptance of the way things are adds a soul crushing melancholy to her. Of course, none of that would be possible were it not for Rooney Mara’s incredible performance. Her gradual opening up throughout the film is almost as impressive a feat as her initial hardness – her monologue to the bound and gagged rapist of a social worker in which she declared, with seething hatred, “I am insane,” is one of the images from 2011 in film that has stuck with me, and watching it again was just as chilling. She suffers so heartbreakingly that, given her propensity for violence, you find yourself filled with a bit of bloodlust as she goes about her “business”.
Daniel Craig does a pretty good job too – he simply has the handicap of a much less interesting character. Blomkvist is exciting enough and serves well as a straight man detective, but he lacks a certain drive that is typical of most Fincher leading men – which brings us to the central flaw of the film. There is simply not enough reason for Blomkvist to be doing what he is doing. Yes, the mystery is involving, rich and intricate and does not feel like a copout when all the cards are finally laid on the table. But, when Blomkvist has finished his work and is annoyed that Venger mislead him regarding the information he had on Wennerstrom, the audience sees that he was never in it for the sport of it – he was in it for what Venger had promised him. And that drive is weak. It’s not enough. Mark Zuckerberg had a girl who rejected him, and somehow thought that success through Facebook would win her over. Robert Graysmith had absolutely nothing – it was about obsession, and the hunt. Blomkvist is motivated by a man who played him like a sucker and destroyed his career, a drive that is completely irrelevant to the task at hand and serves to somewhat undermine the murder mystery.
It’s a flaw that bugged me throughout the film, but the film still does so many things right. It contains that same Fincher tension that Zodiac perfected (with an almost exact analogue to the basement sequence that so terrified me). It had a set of wonderfully unsettling sequences that proved Fincher can still make you squirm as you lean forward on the edge of your seat. It showed Ron Howard how to make detective work interesting without CG letters flying in all directions and an inexplicable golden light spelling things out for the audience. It was technically proficient in every way (if not extraordinary in its cinematography, it still was shot very well). It just lacked drive, something that Fincher has historically done very well.
One final note: the last shot is filled with so much pain that I could not help but wonder if any shot in 2011 held that much emotion. To see Salander so hopeful, having grown so much (“I made a friend. One you would approve of.”), and then get crushed in such a way, and revert back to the way she was – it’s heartbreaking. But it plays right into Fincher’s wheelhouse. Fincher’s films, as much as they have been about drive, are about constancy. Nothing changes. Blomkvist and Salander may have taken down a murderer/rapist and a corrupt business magnate, but in the end, Blomkvist ends up back in his magazine job with his editor lover, and Salander remains a social outcast with a penchant for hacking. Nothing has changed. In The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg has created the largest social networking site and is worth $3 billion, but Erica (Rooney Mara again, heh) still won’t friend him. Nothing has changed. In Zodiac, Graysmith is certain he knows who the killer is, but he is never brought to justice. Nothing has changed.
It’s not my favorite Fincher film, it’s not Fincher’s worst film (sorry, Alien 3, we know it’s not Fincher’s fault though). It’s still a fantastic film regardless, and is a great film to add to Fincher’s collection.
* * * 1/2