The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Fri, Dec 23, 2011, 00:00

Directed by David Fincher. Starring Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Joely Richardson, Yorick van Wageningen, Julian Sands 18 cert, gen release, 157 min

Hollywood’s take on Stieg Larsson’s novel is stylish but empty, writes DONALD CLARKE

IT WOULD BE unfair (possibly actionable) to draw too many comparisons with The Da Vinci Code, but, while watching David Fincher’s suave, often lethargic walkthrough of Stieg Larsson’s sensation novel, unwelcome thoughts of that wretched film do swim to the surface.

A great deal of effort and money has gone into rendering the plot as faithfully as possible, yet it’s hard to avoid the sense that too much fuss is being made about not very much. Vast swathes of the supposed action comprise furrowed actors staring at computer screens or flicking through photographs. Putative revelations play like minor footnotes. Though the story has been juiced up with spurts of sexual violence and paragraphs of technobabble, it still plays like a half-decent episode of Inspector Morsewith ideas above its station.

Mind you, David Fincher might be just the right man to take on such a beast. The former pop video director is an impressive stylist, but nobody could mistake his seductive, empty films for the work of an intellectual.

Consider the hilariously vulgar title sequence. Suggesting the opening of a Pierce Brosnan Bond film, the snippet features oily animations scored to a revamped version of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song. Did Fincher really pick that tune because it features the words “ice and snow” in the first line? The film is set in Scandinavia, after all.

At any rate, given that everybody on earth has read The Girl with the Dragon Tattooor seen the serviceable (not dissimilar) Swedish film adaptation, the pedestrian plot probably requires only the sketchiest summary.

Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), an investigative journalist for some archaic entity known as “a magazine”, has just left his job after getting mugged in a libel case. He takes an assignment from an elderly industrialist (Christopher Plummer) to investigate the disappearance of the mogul’s grandniece in the late 1960s. After too much preliminary shuffling about in the snow, Mikael gains an unlikely Dr Watson in the form of a tattooed, pierced computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara).

Once again, as in the Swedish version, the film inherits a horrible structural defect from Larsson’s novel. For the first hour, Lisbeth and Mikael live unconnected lives. The hacker enacts an ingenious, deserved revenge on the state- appointed carer who has been sexually assaulting her. Mikael meets various interchangeable psychotics from the missing girl’s family. Plot points are teased out. Local colour is unveiled. But it still feels as if the story hasn’t properly started until the point at which most films are moving into their third act.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoodoes pick up pace after that long prologue. Featuring an effectively icy score by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor – in a style we’ll call light industrial – and Finchily cobalt cinematography from Jeff Cronenweth, the picture has almost enough surface panache to transcend its schlocky plot and naive characterisation.

But was it really worth the effort? For all Fincher’s famously fanatical control, he can’t dispel the stench of half-baked cheese that hangs over the source material.

Mara pouts and sulks with enthusiasm. Her character, however, comes across like a middle-aged lay preacher’s notion of a terrifying subversive. Tattoos? How scary. Piercings? How transgressive. (Last time I checked, Samantha Cameron, wife to the UK’s prime minister, had a tattoo on her own less-dangerous ankle.) Craig’s solid performance fights to escape the hard-drinking, rough- edged clichés of middle-brow crime fiction.

Comparisons with The Da Vinci Codeare, nonetheless, almost certainly uncalled for. The film has almost enough old-school penny- dreadful momentum to justify its comically inflated running time. It doesn’t say much, but it passes the time. It’s hugely implausible, but it has a modestly satisfactory narrative arc. We used to say much the same about Inspector Morse.

* The Girl with the Dragon Tattooopens on Monday.