If films like Zodiac and The Social Network have proved anything, it’s that David Fincher’s strengths remain vested in the procedural. Working with Jeff Cronenweth’s chilly cinematography and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ collection of The Social Network’s B-Sides, David Fincher sustains a formidable command over the tonal nature of his film. Obsession becomes the prevalent theme that endures throughout The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, as we view characters through a very meticulous and observational lens. Operatic in nature, Fincher’s ability to wrest tension out of the most mundane activities deserves its praises and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo realizes much of its suspense from moments of computer hacking and ill-conceived stakeouts. But if there’s one film from Fincher’s oeuvre that The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is most familiar with, it would be his 1995 effort, Se7en.
Both Se7en and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo share a much darker edge to the nature of crime and obsession. Steve Zallian’s adaptation of Steig Larsson’s novel rather bluntly positions both Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) as characters shaped by their personal trauma, whereupon the film’s central mystery serves to feed into their obsessive desires. But despite the rather shoddy way in which the two characters initially come across, David Fincher’s attention to detail and efficient filmmaking carries The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in its duller opening stretches.
As the film takes shape and the mystery begins to unfold, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo shifts from an exercise of Fincher’s formal craftsmanship to a Rooney Mara showcase. Along with Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin, Mara gives one of the best performances of the year. There’s an incredible bravado and twinge of comedy that she brings to the role, wherein she delicately balances toughness and warmth. Her character is riddled with a great deal of feminist contradictions, but despite the inconsistencies in design, Mara infuses the character with so much needed vulnerability. It’s particularly remarkable given that she essentially evokes the greatest emotional reaction throughout the film, despite possessing the most gothic and radical of appearances.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo falters in a much of the same way a film like Se7en never achieved its possibilities. There are certain preoccupations that Zallian must contend with before he’s able to give the characters much to chew on, and despite the rather hokey twist of a mystery, the film can be surprisingly dense in actually reaching its conclusion. There’s a lot of emphasis on building the film’s twist into something plausible, which is unfortunate, because Fincher seems to be more comfortable in getting that sort of thing across visually. In one of Fincher’s finest moments, he cuts between Mara and Craig as they’re piecing together the mystery. Little dialogue is uttered, as Reznor and Ross’ score inhabits the space. Instead, we see the two go through hundreds of newspaper articles, cross-referencing search engines, and doubling back on that. It’s an incredibly tense scene that sets up the finale quite well and does so in a limited time frame.
The film’s other preoccupation stems from a friendship between Mara and Craig’s characters. It’s not given much narrative space, but the limited time that it does consume are among the film’s highlights. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo continues the same sort of stoic tone found in Fincher’s The Social Network, whereupon we analyze the world through a very frigid perspective. But when that perspective offers warmth, it serves to truly bring the whole picture together.