Director: David Fincher
Writer: Steven Zaillian
Stars: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellen Skarsgard
My first reaction after watching this film was to go and buy the book. I didn’t–I have a large backlog–but that is always a good sign.
The story revolves around the forty-year old Vanger family mystery: what happened to Harriet? Henrik (Christopher Plummer), the patriarch of the Vanger family and uncle to Harriet, hires Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a wrongly disgraced reporter, to investigate the mystery at the family island in Northern Sweden. Initially Mikael is not interested. But then Henrik shows him Harriet’s gifts: a collection of Japanese style water colors he has been receiving on his birthday every year. One half of the wall containing the watercolors painted by Harriet, the other half containing those Henrik believes painted by her killer. After accepting the assignment, Mikael is introduced to the rogues gallery of Nazi sympathizers, alcoholics, and misfits that make-up the Vanger family. Into this bleak world Mikael brings Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) to help solve the mystery. Lisbeth is the damaged loner computer hacker originally hired by the Vanger family to perform the background check on Mikael. After reading his file, Mikael knows Lisbeth is the person he needs to solve the case.
Steven Zaillian, the screenwriter, creates a tight story that builds tension as the story moves forward. You are drawn into the mystery and genuinely care about its resolution even though the characters are not initially sympathetic. The two main characters, Mikael & Lisbeth, are well-developed, and you grow to understand their motivations. Unfortunately he resolves the mystery too quickly; the primary antagonist being dispatched almost immediately after their discovery, and the final revelation neatly packaged shortly thereafter. Also–and this is probably an example of adapting the source material too exactly–the movie goes on too long. I understand the importance of the final Christmas scene between Lisbeth and Mikael, but the fifteen minutes of corporate cloak & dagger beforehand is totally unnecessary and has nothing to do with the primary mystery.
As for the direction, David Fincher is pitch perfect. The setting is kept bleak with a blue & gray color palate, and the musical score by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross is excellent. Fincher is one of my favorite directors, and he excels at mysteries: Seven and Zodiac being two. When it comes to the central mystery, there is no fat in this film. He creates tension & intrigue as he shows Mikael & Lisbeth investigating old photos, maps, and files.
But best of all are the actors. Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara are good on their own, but incredible together with a palpable chemistry. Daniel Craig is tired and defeated as Mikael Blomkvist. His face has never looked more weathered. Rooney Mara is damaged, and both vulnerable & fierce as Lisbeth Salander. The fierceness of her look slowly gives way to her damaged vulnerability. It is amazing that after we witness the vengeance she exacts on her rapist, we also are able to observe her emotional vulnerability to Mikael once she lets him in past her defenses. Together Craig and Mara bring out the best in themselves for their characters.
Overall this is a film that should be seen on the big screen in a dark theatre. The landscape and mood lend themselves for that experience.
Grade = A-