After the killings he made with “Zodiac” and the magnificent “Se7en,” David Fincher appeared the ideal choice to helm the highly anticipated Hollywood remake of the Swedish hit “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Or, so it seemed.
After the killings he made with “Zodiac” and the magnificent “Se7en,” David Fincher appeared the ideal choice to helm the highly anticipated Hollywood remake of the Swedish hit “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Or, so it seemed. Turns out he’s much too moody and cerebral for the mindless pulp flowing from Stieg Larsson’s source novel about an investigation into a series of biblical-related murders committed 40 years back.
Fincher takes repeated stabs at creating depth but seldom draws blood in attempting to flesh out characters that just aren’t that interesting. Or at least not in the way they are portrayed by a laconic Daniel Craig, as muckraking journalist Mikael Blomkvist, and an underwhelming Rooney Mara, who is inexplicably drawing Oscar buzz for her take on one of the great literary characters of recent years, the take-no-crap vigilante Lisbeth Salander.
You feel for Rooney because it was a no-win proposition from the start trying to top the electrifying performance by Noomi Rapace in the original “Dragon Tattoo.” Where Rapace breathed fire as the tat-loving assassin in a mohawk, Mara pretty much douses all of the character’s inherent sexual energy by playing it so laidback that she practically lulls you to sleep. And she probably would if not for the eye-opening score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, last year’s Oscar winners for Fincher’s “The Social Network.” That’s about the only thing “Dragon Tattoo” has in common with Fincher’s masterpiece about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, played by Jesse Eisenberg with the sort of sociopathic tenacity that should have infused Lisbeth. Too bad Eisenberg couldn’t have filled the role instead; he certainly would have been a huge improvement on Mara, with whom he memorably jousted with during “The Social Network’s” opening scenes. Mara more than held her own then, putting the arrogant Zuckerberg in his place. Those cojones, that passion are nowhere to be found in “Dragon Tattoo,” which lives or dies on her ability to win an audience’s affections.
Seldom does she provide evidence that she is on par with Rapace, let alone an improvement. Even the legendary dragon tattoo covering Lisbeth curvaceous back is subpar by comparison, ditto for the story’s infamous rape and revenge scenes, which feel perfunctory and exploitative instead of integral in defining the character’s intensity and revolve. That doesn’t mean, however, that Fincher and director of photography Jeff Cronenweth waste an opportunity to have Mara disrobe and parade before the camera (gotta show off that elaborate dragon tattoo) in a manner that strikes you as more lurid than the original.
By far, Fincher’s worst mistake is the casting of the vapid Craig as the sanctimonious Blomkvist, who upon his release from prison on a trumped-up libel charge, is summoned to a frozen island near Hedestad occupied by the stinking rich and highly dysfunctional Vanger clan. As fans of the book and Niels Arden Oplev’s original movie know, the purpose of Mikael’s visit is to meet with Vanger patriarch, Henrik Vanger (a wasted Christopher Plummer); a frail old man who wants Mikael to solve the mystery surrounding the disappearance, and suspected murder, of his grandniece, Harriet, in 1966.
The original Blomkvist, Michael Nyqvist (currently starring in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”), was no great shakes, either, but at least he was more interesting than Craig, who plays Mikael like a walking, talking corpse. We spend what feels like hours holed up with Mikael in a small cottage on the vast Vanger estate watching him stare at computer screens and pour through boxes of yellowing photographs and news clippings. Compelling cinema, it is most definitely not. But it’s just dull enough to make the parallel scenes featuring Lisbeth’s battles with her “rapist pig” parole officer seem lively by comparison.
Even when Lisbeth and Mikael finally hook up mid-movie and join forces to solve the mystery, the film cannot generate a spark. And when the pair hops into the sack together it feels more contrived than sensual. It’s also about as laughable as the story’s climax inside a torture chamber that looks like it was recycled from a cheesy horror picture.
The lackluster script by “Schindler’s List” scribe Steve Zaillian isn’t doing anyone any favors, either, making what is already an overlong movie (158 minutes!) feel interminable, even more so if you already know the story and its many manufactured twists and turns involving Nazis, incest and a multi-million-dollar swindle. Zaillian, and for that matter, Fincher, do little to distinguish their film from the original, essentially making a shot-for-shot remake. The only difference being this film’s new, but less satisfying ending, which basically turns the mighty Lisbeth into a love-struck sap.
The supporting players, including Stellan Skarsgard, Joely Richardson and Robin Wright as Erika, Mikael’s devoted lover and boss at Millenium magazine, are all improvements over the originals, but they cannot begin to subvert this “Dragon” from belching out a fireless puff.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (R for brutal violent content, including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language.) Cast includes Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer and Robin Wright. Directed by David Fincher. 2 stars out of 4.