“The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”: Cracking open a cold one…

Since time immemorial, David Fincher has been showcasing a crisp succession of digitally-shot procedurals (save for that unfortunate interlude of Rothian schmaltz) and here, instead of rehashing the Swedish original, we are given an electric and breathless exercise in thematic, layered development. It’s disingenuous to say that Fincher has ‘elevated’ or ‘amplified’ the source material so much as he’s taken it for a ride around the block, listened to its story and then gone off to tell his friends a slightly more interesting and exaggerated version. The film doesn’t attempt to revolutionize the pulpiness of the novel so much as enhance a few elements that have excited Fincher and Co.: the central tension of the Information Age, the way our constantly expanding body of data nonetheless fails to necessarily increase our comprehension of the world and of each other. Thus this infamous detective story is used as yet another outlet for Fincher to continue his search for that fine line between raw information and perfect knowledge that has eternally captured his soul.

This is not to detract from the singularly compelling performance of Rooney Mara; she is the beating, ripping, clawing heart of the film, demonstrating supreme authority and enthralling vulnerability in quick transition. Mara’s childlike face is perfectly framed by the spikes and chains of her character’s leave-me-alone exterior (or, as one of her t-shirts puts it, “fuck off you fucking fuck”). As for Daniel Craig, it’s a surprise to see him in something other than just his swimwear.

The film’s not an outright masterpiece: from the explosively grotesque beginning to the ambiguous ending, we are given a series of bolting scenes filmed with cold intensity. This is not Fincher’s deeper side, but rather his aesthetic interests on show. His meticulous eye for detail (some of this out-Zodiacs ‘Zodiac’) is evident throughout. That such a long film (coming in at 158 mins) remains watchable is mostly a credit to Fincher the Pop Director – he ironically repurposes Enya’s “Sail Away” at a crucial moment in a context that will fundamentally alter that song for you for ever – but Fincher the Deconstructor, who glided through ducts in ‘Panic Room’ and distorted the pitfalls of neo-noir in ‘Se7en’, is nowhere to be seen. Whilst he’s at the peak of his powers, do we really want him dedicating his time and energy on a story franchise and, dare I say it, a ‘brand’? Of course the dark eccentricities of Larson’s novel do allow Fincher to volitionally explore gender exploitation and vigilantism (Q: who could refuse a beautifully-shot torture sequence involving the tattooing of “I’m a rapist pig” on a sex offender’s chest? A: not me), but that doesn’t overlook the fact that his immaculate visual sensibilities are having to work with “thriller beach read” material at best.

Side note: My full enjoyment was somewhat thwarted thanks to an unwelcome gentleman sitting beside me. I don’t mind people sitting next to me; I always try to “love thy neighbour” in the cinema, but this teenager, who can only be described as a giant pulsating penis, was making it very difficult for me (e.g. checking his Blackbery at five minute intervals and fondling his popcorn at every opportunity). I think a distinction should be made: it is only in arthouse cinemas among fellow cinephiles that a screening can really be enhanced by a so-called shared experience. When I saw ‘Miss Bala’ last year at the Phoenix in Oxford, the entire audience were visibly gripped throughout by the protagonist’s unwilling voyage through the Mexican drug gangs. When she was set free at the end there was an audible sigh of relief as we collectively unclenched our buttocks. It was a community experience that had united us for a few hours. Afterwards, everyone milled outside the cinema, as though waiting for someone to suggest either group therapy or a drink. Whereas, at the multiplex yesterday, I had to sit there with my self-righteous, silent rage at my ‘neighbour’ who could’ve made Jesus Christ renegade on his principles. It’s pretty simple: if a David Fincher film cannot hold your full attention, then you suffer from an unfathomable condition and should be immediately euthanised upon leaving the cinema, but sadly I’m not in a position to make these kind of decisions. Yet.

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