David Fincher’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s novel of the same name (with just a wee bit of the second book of the Millennium Trilogy tossed in for good measure,) is a very slick and compelling thriller that works due to the efforts of nearly everyone involved, even if it rewrites its source material in no small measure. The casting is solid and the acting is so much better than one expects from a Hollywood film. The photography captures that wonderful icy coldness necessary to the backdrop of Swedish drama, the score is every bit as sparse, and the tale itself is gut-wrenching and tirelessly methodical by turns.
Christopher Plumber and Stellan Skarsgard bring credibility to any role they undertake; while Daniel Craig, as Mikael, with his sleepy eyed plodding mannerisms is the perfect counterbalance to the harshly quicksilver existence of Rooney Mara’s character, Lisbeth. Everyone else in the cast holds up their end just as marvelously.
The present day horror that Lisbeth experiences in her private life—the tragedy involving her first guardian, and the repeated rapes by her second, utterly odious, guardian—is also counterbalanced to the deepening mystery that blossoms from the disappearance (and presumed murder) of one girl decades earlier to the apparent work of a deranged serial killer who weaves biblical vengeance/justice into his sadistic rape and murders so subtly that the police were unable to see that one man was responsible for the carnage.
What is missing, thankfully, is all the check-yer-brain-at-the-popcorn-stand in order to suspend disbelief, people behaving in ways that people do not behave (at least not so’s you’d notice during the first viewing,) and the endless string of impossible coincidences that, as a rule, mar Hollywood thrillers seemingly by design rather than chance. When characters' lives intersect at critical junctures here, it makes sense they do so. When new evidence is unearthed, it is because either Mikael or Lisbeth put a great deal of time and effort into unearthing it (without boring the audience to sleep in the process.)
Occasionally there are bits of unnecessary drama (through music and photographic perspective) lent to certain scenes—such as Lizabeth pouring through the voluminous Vanger archives alone at night—but given the alternative, namely prolonged emotionally flat periods—the device is more of a vehicle than a flaw. Neither solution to the mysteries—what happened to the missing heiress and who’s been butchering young women—comes as much of a surprise, although, given the production standards and performances, this, too, is not so much a flaw as a testament to the quality of the film making: the characters and situations are interesting enough to elevate the film above a standard who-done-it. Who knew David Fincher had it in him?
The chemistry between the rugged Craig and the punk pixie Mara works electrically. Hopefully the next Jimmy Bond installment won’t put off the filming of the remainder of the trilogy. Hopefully Fincher can helm two more tight and riveting films.