Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy was a phenomenon. The subsequent films have helped to make a star out of actress Noomi Rapace and an icon of her character Lisbeth Salander. But our kneejerk “terrible idea” reaction to news of a remake was tempered by the fact that David Fincher had signed on to direct. Indeed, our interest was piqued.
Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is hired by ailing industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to investigate the 40-year-old mystery of his missing niece. As Blomkvist delves into the sordid history of the ghoulish Vanger family, he calls on the help of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a secretive outsider who has good reasons for wanting to bring men who hate women to answer for their crimes.
When judging remakes, we try to take them on their own merits and not compare them too much with the original. However, with this and the recent Let Me In, the new films have been made so quickly after their originals that this becomes difficult. While Fincher and screenwriter Steve Zaillan may not have seen Män som hatar kvinnor, we have.
However, Fincher is, of course, an outstanding filmmaker who is very much at home with dark subject matter. This is identifiably a Fincher film, right from the music promo-esque title sequence set to Trent Reznor and Karen O’s fantastic cover of "Immigrant Song". The film retains its Swedish setting and everyone except Craig delivers their dialogue with that accent. The chilly nature of the story is relentlessly hammered home not only by the weather but by the cold colour palette used by Fincher and DoP Jordan Cronenworth.
So much of the film’s success hinges on Mara’s performance. It was an unexpected choice, given that most only knew her from her small but impressive turn in The Social Network, although some knew her from the recent execrable Nightmare on Elm Street remake. Sensibly, Mara’s Lisbeth is markedly different to Rapace’s. Less immediately confrontational but no less dangerous, this Lisbeth is more of a survivor who has learned to expect the worst from people. Mara is totally convincing and is superb in the many difficult scenes the film presents her with. She also brings the best out of Craig, who’s frankly miscast as the gregarious Blomkvist, although he warms up as the film goes on.
Everyone else is perfectly cast. Plummer delivers sordid exposition with a wicked glint in his eye, Stellan Skarsgård (Thor) is spot on as his nephew Martin, Robin Wright (Moneyball) brings a bit of warmth as Blomkvist’s editor/girlfriend Erika, and Yorick van Wageningen (The New World) is superbly horrifying as Lisbeth’s predatory case worker. The rest of the cast is packed with familiar faces on solid form.
It’s all very efficient, stylish, and well-performed. Sequences such as those between Lisbeth and her case worker are brutally effective, and the scene in the cellar near the end is actually an improvement on its predecessor. But it’s not exactly a radical reinterpretation. It’s the same story but without subtitles. The major change comes from Mara’s take on Salander, which is deserving of praise. Fans of the original may be interested to see it to compare, and those who haven’t seen the Swedish film will almost certainly be very impressed. But as good as it is, the definitive version for us remains the Swedish one.
Verdict: As dark and nasty as it should be, and although the general icy glossiness will disappoint some, Mara’s performance is superb. But there’s not enough different here to justify its existence.