Rating: 3 stars out of 5
It’s inevitable that David Fincher’s take on the Swedish-noir bestseller by Stieg Larsson would be compared to the original movie adaptation, done by Niels Arden Oplev.
The results are mixed; in some ways it’s superior to the Swedish version in terms of pacing and has a more authentic feel, but for some reason there’s a coda at the end of the movie that feels tacked on and formulaic, almost as if Fincher succumbed to Hollywood rules in order to make the story more digestible.
Once again, the story involves how disgraced reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is given a case by the aging patriarch Henrik Venger (Christopher Plummer), who wants to find out what happened to his niece Harriet almost 40 years back.
Essentially a locked room mystery on an island, Blomkvist enlists the help of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), the titular character who is tough as nails and street smarts who wouldn’t look out of place in a Goth concert. The two manage to unearth the truth behind the disappearance, which might link to a series of serial killings.
Fincher doesn’t dumb down the movie. Computer geeks will be pleased to see that Lisbeth knows how to hack and put together a database query at lightning speed, and it only takes a moment for him to establish how Lisbeth has a photographic memory.
Once the case is solved, however, it’s like some spirit (or studio head) intervened, and suddenly Lisbeth turns into this superspy, dressing up like a platinum blonde in order to get back at Blomkvist’s enemy; a Swedish millionaire who entrapped him and sued him for all he’s worth.
It’s all capped by a scene that just fails to capture what Lisbeth has been. Tough, unemotional, and who would be wary of any long term human relationship. Fincher makes her into an almost Julia Roberts wanna-be, and that’s hard to swallow for a movie that mostly swept one along. It’s like having a great meal and then having a dessert consisting of an overly sweetened cupcake.
There are a couple of changes that also don’t sit well. The location of a key person has been changed, which makes the investigation less sturdy. Also, since everyone speaks in an English accent, when the investigators head to London the difference is hardly felt.
Some problems are also a result of the original source material. The hint of a biblical connection is never quite clear, and the confrontation between the investigators and the murderer feels perfunctory. There’s also some big plot-holes and assumptions around the whole case that don’t make much sense if you stop to think about it.
Rooney Mara does a fine job as Lisbeth, considering that Noomi Rapace’s role in the Swedish trilogy wasn’t an easy one to follow. In one of the film’s key scenes, Mara’s Lisbeth takes down her abusive guardian, she’s hard-edged and nasty, but with a more vulnerable side. Craig is deliberately overshadowed, but does manage to carry the more comedic moments of the film that manage to break up the intense story.
In certain respects, this is a good, but not great, adaptation of the book. It would have been almost perfect if Fincher had ended it after the end of the investigation, instead of pulling the film into “Mission Impossible” territory, and making Lisbeth Salander, surely one of the most intriguing and toughest women to hit the screen into a hybrid of "Alias'" Sydney Bristow and Julia Roberts. It’s still saved by Fincher’s fluid, breathless directing and great performances by the two main leads.