I expect more from David Fincher than remakes of airport novels, but even when he’s “slumming,” the end-result can be fascinating and visually striking. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had of course become a smash-hit in both book and film form in its home country of Sweden, but that meant nothing to the Hollywood bean-counters, who felt the need to adapt this exceptionally dark and nasty piece of work for the big screen. Fincher and big-money screenwriter Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, Moneyball, Searching for Bobby Fischer) were drafted, and a needless yet entertaining remake was born, one that softened some of the grimier elements of the original in favor of more digestible thematic ingredients and yet still explored the depths of human depravity. Which is, often times, what Fincher has enjoyed doing as a dark-arts craftsman. He is, of course, the filmmaker who has been famously quoted as saying that “movies should leave scars” and that he and the audience are nothing more than “perverts,” so I guess it doesn’t surprise me that he would be attracted to this inherently sadistic material. But this is a film where it felt like Fincher could have directed it from a remote location, with one hand tied behind his back.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remains watchable, for me as a viewer, because of the exceedingly sophisticated aesthetic package and the juicy, full-bodied performances. The film looks and sounds like a feverish nightmare, with frosty cinematography and an unnerving musical score that could cut glass. Rooney Mara was fabulous in the leading role, physically disappearing into a character that has some seriously prickly emotional currents, and Daniel Craig wasn’t afraid of taking on a morally questionable character that rarely emerges as the victorious alpha male we’ve seen in narratives such as this and previous films he’s appeared in. The supporting cast is peppered with familiar faces and some rather creepy unknowns, and even if the material ultimately took Fincher nowhere new as a storyteller, there’s a bracing dynamism to his imagery that cannot be denied and often times has you coming back for seconds. The opening credits sequence is also completely stunning, a small tour de force in and of itself. But I need more from Fincher as an artist, and a sequel to WWZ is not what I’m interested in seeing. Give us another Fight Club. Break the mold again, and take us somewhere we’ve never been. That’s what I demand as a viewer.