From the moment the incredible pounding bass line of The Immigrant Song pumps through the speakers, accompanied by perhaps the greatest opening title sequence in cinema history, you know that this film is going to be one hell of a ride. For those of you familiar with the original novel from Stieg Larsson, you’ll know that the subject matter is brutal, uncompromising and at times, disturbing. This either makes for an incredibly hard to film to direct, or a great opportunity to make a powerful and evocative movie.
Thankfully, with Fincher at the helm we have the latter. A gritty, and faithful adaptation of the novel that goes out of its way to forge its own style and dare I say, almost create a brand for the trilogy that will now grace our screens over the coming years. It’s a fantastic achievement and completely justified for a story (both the novel and the film) that goes out of its way to deviate from the norm. Despite an extensive character list (and cast), you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone that is not damaged, depraved, deviant or all three, and a slew of activity that pendulums from regular illegality to pure sickness.
One of the core reasons for the popularity of the books is the introduction of a new type of heroine, whose realisation is even more impressive on the big screen. Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) is a damaged young girl, with incredible talents and a fascinating punk-noir aesthetic that bleeds in to the very fabric of the film. This complex and vibrant firework of a character is paired with the more regular disgraced journalist character of Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) who offsets Lisbeth’s volatile nature to provide a strong backbone and forward momentum to the narrative. The two characters, whether on page or screen, make a fantastic double act with their contrasting dispositions and desires, and their actions are laced with a fire and determination that is incredibly refreshing.
Fallen from grace, Blomkvist takes up a freelance investigatory role for retired business tycoon Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), agreeing to search for the murderer of his niece who went missing 40 years ago. He is later joined by cyber-anarchist Lisbeth Salander, and together they uncover a shocking string of events that touches upon everything from Nazism, to rape and torture, and that’s just within the Vanger family. Blomkvist also has his sights set on other targets, the corrupt and despicable titans of contemporary Swedish industry who pollute the economy through illegal activity, and who Blomkvist has thus far, failed to put down. The story is half murder mystery and half political thriller, and whilst the murder narrative is front and centre, the diminution of the story from novel to screen sadly lets most of the political thriller narrative go by the way side. You could argue that the current economic climate provides a fertile environment for stories of financial illegality, however, perhaps because the film remains set in Sweden (which is a very good thing) Fincher has less of a relationship with Swedish economics and therefore cannot invest himself fully. The Blomkvist/Wennerström sub-plot remains sadly lacking.
Unfortunate it may be, but necessary too. The novel is long and winding and derives a lot of its power and substance from the intricacies of both mystery plots. Even with a film edging on three hours, it’s still a difficult task to address and dissect the events as fully as the novel and so it is a necessary casualty of adaptation. I can only urge viewers to read the book alongside the film to enjoy the deeper complexities of the story.
The film deals with incredibly dark and twisted themes, and for that requires a warning that it may not be to everyones taste. However, it does offer an excellent narrative (or two) and a fantastic re-imagining of a significant cinematic heroine. For those that don’t mind being challenged by graphic scenes and themes, then this is a solid film that is fresh, intelligent and weighty and delivers a fantastic cinema experience.