This past week has made me lend some considerable thought towards aesthetic style and, more specifically, distinctive directorial style within film and television. 

Many misguided critics and fans aplenty of shows such as the BBC’s Sherlock assume that what their eyes are digesting is stylistically cool, slick and not gratuitously bloated with contrived cinematography and novelty editing techniques. Unfortunately, I disagree profusely, so subsequently I resent how the show’s draining superficiality and overt-experimentation has snared the mainstream viewer to willingly flock to it like catatonic magpies around some discarded foil from the inside of duty-free cigarette carton. Personally, the phrase style over substance has rarely been so applicable. 

Although I think programs of this ilk need to drop a few industrial strength sedatives, my criticism is perhaps a little harsh and unjustified, but it’s unfortunate that a couple of hours before I was forced to endure the series’ finale of Sherlock I had just had the pleasure of seeing David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and what supposedly constitutes style within the screen medium suddenly presented a clarity that had previously eluded me.

Fincher has become a contemporary auteur whose directorial style emanates confidence, innovation and ambition: remaining distinctive without ever straying into ostentatious or pretentious ground. It is this personalised approach, assimilated with exemplary screenplays and an acute awareness of cinematic purity that has helped define his success.  

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first instalment of Stieg Larsson’s internationally acclaimed, best-selling trilogy of the same name and documents the story of disgraced investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist, who is recruited to solve the mysterious disappearance of former industrialist Henrik Vagner’s great-niece, Harriet, forty years prior. 

As he struggles in vain to compile and correlate the daunting quantity evidence that he has accumulated, he is advised to enlist the help of expert researcher and computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to assist him in his inquisition towards unearthing some despicable family truths. 

It would be easy to congest this review with comparisons to Niels Arden Oplev’s 2009 imagining of Larsson’s original source material but because Fincher’s film is a visionary adaptation in its own right and not just some superfluous remake devoid of privilege towards artistic merit, such comparisons are rendered redundant and it should be judged as the singular piece of art that it is. 

The film opens like many of Fincher’s previous films with an elaborate credit sequence which shares some commonalities with the cerebral labyrinth explored in the opening credits of Fight Club, whilst also evoking similarities to some kind of frenetic cyberpunk, techno-fiend James Bond in the process. Although the effects in this sequence are visually impressive and most likely utilised to represent the tenacity of the film’s eponymous girl, it establishes quite an alienating juxtaposition considering the more systematic tone that the film adheres to from then onwards.  

The colouration filter deployed throughout the film is an oppressive, bleak green and does nothing to glamorise the social climate in Sweden at that time. The locale is portrayed as a place where privacy is jeopardised; controlled by conspiracy, voyeurism and where nothing retains the capacity to be left undisclosed. This burdening miasma of deceit and mistrust provides the perfect habitat for a thriller of this intricacy to unfold. 

Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig play Lisbeth and Mikael respectively, and although they spend over half the film without ever coming into contact with each other, when their paths do eventually converge, there is a decent chemistry between them as they consult their skills, both professional and extracurricular, to try and solve the mystery of ‘that day’ forty years ago. 

It shouldn’t be surprising to many that Daniel Craig plays, well, Daniel Craig for the duration of the film. This however isn’t necessarily a criticism because he functions as a perfect foil for Mara’s enigmatic Lisbeth to help lower her defences and become more than just a loner with a persuasion for hacking into, and subsequently destroying, the private lives of others.  

Mara undergoes a complete transformative overhaul from her usually angelic appearance to the darkly empowered, non-conformist Lisbeth, and her dedicated performance was certainly deserving of her Golden Globe nomination for best actress in a drama.  

The gender-politics raised from the casting in the film are interestingly subversive and intuitive by Fincher because Craig is so often cast as the archetypal male lead/hero and for him to be so reliant on the Lisbeth’s resourcefulness and expertise, to the extent that he appears to be professionally subordinated, is refreshing for a mainstream film that has a female lead who isn’t implausibly immersed in a world of superheroes or anaemic vampires.  

There is one scene in particular that has courted a substantial amount of controversy and is the only glaringly obvious reason why the BBFC stamped an 18 certificate on the film. If you’re unfamiliar with the abject specifics that the sequence entails then I’m not going divulge the events in any explicit detail but it concerns the viscerally arresting sexual assault of Lisbeth by her financial support lawyer in one of the most defeminising scenes I can remember in mainstream Hollywood cinema. 

The film would most certainly have been awarded a 15 certificate had it not have been for this scene of hyperbolic objectification but strangely it serves a very validated purpose because up until this moment Lisbeth’s character had been so reserved and introverted that this abhorrent act lays the foundation for the necessary sympathy that the audience must adopt in order to actively care about the character. 

Fincher sometimes has a tendency to protract his narratives just that little bit too much and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is no exception. Despite the fact the film could have been shaved down by a good twenty minutes and sometimes it feels like you’re having your hand held to make sure you can keep up with what is transpiring, it is a very accomplished and engaging thriller. 

With its excellent sound design, strong supporting performances and fluid editing, amongst all of the other aforementioned plaudits, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is certainly worth the price of its entry fee or DVD. 

Whether or not Fincher will return to the director’s chair with his customary finesse and irrefutable style for the remaining exploits of Lisbeth Salander only time will tell. As we wait with bated breath, I‘m going to prepare by finding some fire to play with.

About The Author

Ross is a Screen Studies graduate from Manchester who can be found beaming with joy rather than wincing with discomfort at cinema's oddest, most experimental and depraved offerings.