I’m a wimp when it comes to violence and horror in films (and in life, I think. Fortunately, there have been very few occasions when my nerves have been tested for fear). I skipped “Drive” only because I’d been told about some gory, skull smash. I’ve been haunted by the sound of the arm bone being crunched to create multiple fractures in “Irreversible”. Just writing that line has me shuddering uncomfortably.
So, given my wimpiness, despite the reviews and the shoo-sha about David Denby breaking the embargo, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was not on my list of must-sees. (Someone described the ruckus over Denby’s review as a publicity stunt. “If the review had been bad, I might have had a doubt that it’s not staged. But this is just transparently staged.”) A little more than 12 hours after watching it, I’m still not sure whether I’d say it’s essential viewing. It’s efficiently made, has some strong performances and Steve Zaillian’s script is good but Stieg Larsson’s book is way better.
“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is slick, oil-and-tar slick. From the music video-ish credit titles, the almost monochromatic palette, the ominous musical accents from the Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross soundtrack, Daniel Craig’s designer stubble and the beautiful geometry of the locations in which the film is shot, everything in the film seems to be perfectly calibrated and harmonised. Which is my problem with “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”. Fincher’s film is so intently crafted that it screams Hollywood. The punch in the gut one felt from reading “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was in how real it felt. Larsson seemed to be ripping the taut smooth skin of polite Swedish society and reveal its innards. That was what haunted those who read and liked the books, particularly the first one.
David Fincher’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is graphic, violent and filled with disturbing imagery. Strangely though, I didn’t find it haunting. It’s a film that holds your attention for most of the two hours and twenty minutes. (There’s a Mills & Boon touch to the romantic relationship in the film which successfully ends the film on a laughable low note.) But my quibble with it is that it was too obviously a story. Every detail is so intently crafted that you never forget this is fiction. Daniel Craig is relentlessly sexy as the James Bond of journalists. (I’m not usually a Craig fan, but really, I wish journalists were that charismatic and super-sleuth-ish in real life.)
Rooney Mara is a good actress but every time I saw her, I thought “make-up and costume”. Dramatic transformations are difficult to pull off with credibility. Cate Blanchett did it in and as “Elizabeth”. You knew she’d done things like shaved her eyebrows and hairline and what-not, but when you saw her on screen, she was living that look. With Rooney Mara, it’s different. You never lose sight of this being a costume. Also, Mara had an air of frightened fragility about her that didn’t gel with how I’d imagined Lisbeth Salander. Looking at Mara’s bleached eyebrows and into her wide eyes, I didn’t see anything feral or wild. I just saw vulnerability. Mara’s Lisbeth Salander isn’t scary, and that, for me, is a huge problem in Fincher’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”