Unless you have been living on the outlying tip of a remote island, under a pile of rocks, you may well of heard of the late Stieg Larsson and his Millennium book trilogy.
The books have been phenomenally successful, kick started a Swedish literary thriller bonanza and inspired three critically acclaimed and box office successful Swedish film versions, albeit subtitled for English speaking markets.
Whether there was a need for a remake, is largely irrelevant, Hollywood found many compelling arguments, one suspects with dollar signs on each and every one.
However, the first film arrives with an A list director, David Fincher and Daniel Craig reprising the part of Michael Blomkvist, a campaigning left leaning magazine journalist. Lisbeth Salander previously played by Noomi Rapace, has been replaced by the relatively unknown Rooney Mara, in a part ruthlessly pursued by many aspiring and established actresses.
Following a highly stylised and beautiful credit sequence, albeit seemingly disconnected to the story, we are plunged into the “feel bad” event movie of the year.
Licking his wounds after being on the wrong end of a libel suit, Blomkist and his “Millennium” magazine co-owner and on/off lover, Erika Berger (Robin Wright), decide their next move.
Meanwhile, Henrik Vanger (Chrstopher Plummer) a retired CEO of one of the largest Swedish companies, continues to receive pressed flowers from the killer of his murdered Niece. Blomkist is called upon to investigate the murder, under the pretence of writing a history of the Vanger family. Initially reluctant, he realises this represents the perfect escape from the media spotlight, following his much publicised trial.
Relocated to the remote snowy wastes and the spectacularly dysfunctional extended Vanger family, he has his work is cut out for him. To help in this quest, he is eventually joined by arguably one of the most unusual and well written anti-heroines to grace the silver or indeed, any screen.
A pale, thin, motorcycling hacker with spiky hair, no social skills whatsoever, unashamedly bisexual, amoral, tattooed, much-studded and with a photographic memory. Lisbeth is the best investigator on the books of the firm hired to background check Blomkist, it is good to see Goran Vijnic on the screen again, as Lisbeth’s long suffering boss.
To provide too much further detail of the plot would provide spoilers to those two or three people left in the world, who have not read the books or seen the previous films.
It is fair to say that the film stays true to the story, feel and tone of the books. The violence is strong but not graphic, rape scenes are featured but again are filmed in a non-sensational way and the events portrayed are very relevant to the story.
Craig makes for an excellent Blomkist, managing to effectively distance himself from James Bond in every way, even the way he walks is very different. Mara is as effective as Rapace was in the role, indifferent, caring, streetwise, childlike, a walking bundle of contradictions. If you follow the story further, her character’s background is extensively explored. Budget of course allows for better set dressing and production values but overall this is no better or worse than the original, just different. Although the addition of English as the spoken language will please those with subtitle-phobia, which was the point of the exercise.
The story is set and filmed in Sweden, to do otherwise would have been foolhardy indeed. The snow adding to the sense of dread and foreboding in every frame. Christopher Plummer is his usual commanding self, it’s a shame he does not get more screen-time due to the story.
There are many supporting players, all played by well respected character actors, including Skellan Skarsgard, Geraldine James, Joely Richardson and Stephen Berkoff.
Fincher has dialled back his usual directorial flourishes, this is a complicated story to compress and the script by Steve Zaillian has managed the job of presenting the initial rush of dry family information, perhaps even better than the book.
The film perhaps did not do as well as the studio had hoped but parts 2 and 3 have now been green-lit, so the full trilogy will work it’s way to the screen over time. Which is a positive news, as the film does not deserve the ignominious fate of being the solo entry in the story.
A great story with fine performances makes for a solid well made dark thriller.
A long film but the time will slip past as you are drawn into the dark underbelly of a country few knew much about, before the recent explosion in Swedish thriller literature