LIKE MOST FINCHER PICTURES, this English-language adaptation of ‘Män som hatar kvinnor’ is an intellectual, composed, and dark (literally and figuratively) gauntlet of buried revelations, brooding emptiness, and periodic explosions of articulated violence. In all these respects it mirrors the Swedish-language original, directed by the Danish Niels Opleve, which is shorter by just 8 minutes. It is clear that Fincher was attentive to the original film, referencing its qualities in his commentary, but he is equally dedicated to presenting his own interpretation of Stieg Larsson’s grim novel and equally separate in focusing on his own cast instead of constantly referencing the novel or the first film. Indeed, it is difficult to say something original about a character who has already been broadly and famously explored twice within the past decade, but Fincher’s angle on the tale and the competency of his cast make this version worth experiencing.
Rather than pulling a Cameron (i.e. equating bigger with better and exaggeration with homage), Fincher’s film instead shines in its subtleties. Daniel Craig leads the pack here, bringing numerous clever nuances to the journalist Mikael Blomkvist without resorting to clichéd ticks or idiosyncrasies. Craig still looks and sometimes moves like Bond—his trim wardrobe and occasional underwear scenes doesn’t do anything to disguise an athlete’s figure—but he hangs his glasses askance on his face and licks pens in the frigid air like a journalist; hesitates and half-frowns like a divorcee; and stares just a bit like a real Swede. Set against him, Rooney Mara looks sufficiently wan and waifish as Lisbeth Salander and brings a credible fire to the role as well as commendable commitment to its humbling demands. But she is a relative automaton compared to Noomi Rapace’s porcelain firebrand in the original film, and one struggles to see how we’d sympathize with her in a sequel film when her character becomes even more truculent. Meanwhile, in limited time and less space Christopher Plummer is winsome as Henrik Vanger, family patriarch, beaming and calculating in equal turns. As his son Martin, Stellan Skarsgård is regrettably telegraphed as the villain from his very first close-up (an open-armed rictus meant to be a welcome, though in context a veritable invitation to discovery), but he commands such a swing of momentum that we remain riveted throughout his reveal. In the novel, Larsson’s spin on this was admittedly a little clunky, not quite giving Martin the time to stretch his black wings in his hour of discovery, and Fincher’s film does not deviate overmuch from that formula. But as he notes again in the commentary, Skarsgård is ‘so comfortable in his own skin’ that we can be shaken by a passage so simple as him decanting a bottle of wine through several intercut shots, even if none focused specifically on his hands.
Still, it’s hard to appreciate these morsels due to the film’s aggressive pace, cascading through the plot with the mechanical efficiency of its titular character bent on memorizing a dossier. And though Fincher does not “sex up” the film overmuch, as was half-seriously hypothesized when reviewing the original film, ‘The Girl…’ nonetheless has a glitzy sheen that caters more to Hollywood’s slightly stale take on cool-kid rebellion (i.e. Trent Reznor still speaking for the afflicted underclass in an industrial rock remake of ‘Immigrant Song’) than to an progressive yet insular society’s cancerous cognitive dissonance (i.e. Larsson’s view of Sweden). Finally, and most succinctly if perhaps a mite unfairly, Fincher’s version cost $90 million—Oplev’s $13 million. Is Fincher’s six times the film? Hardly—in fact, the lesser. Like its tattooed antihero, the undersized original punches far above its weight.