Had he not been seduced by cinema, David Fincher would have made a great investigator. He has the patience for a job where it’s paramount, and he knows the most important lesson: that the thrill isn’t the revelation but the hunt itself. The best parts of his superfluous adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo dwell on process—on disgraced journo Mikael (Daniel Craig) and aggressively pierced punk hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) following dead ends, poring over photos and spending the wee hours of the night flipping through dusty records while high on Nescafe. In other words, its choice bits play like Fincher’s brilliant Zodiac. Of course, Zodiac concerned the pursuit of the Zodiac Killer. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, like Stieg Larsson’s novel and the Swedish film version before it, is just a blown-up episode of Cold Case, only with more sexual assault and metal dildos.
Still, if this was a for-hire job, Fincher’s attitude was to give it his all. It’s even easy to see what drew him, if perhaps somewhat reluctantly, to a film that exists solely because most of the people who read the book would never read subtitles. Along with allowing him to once again hunker down with detectives, it plays into his obsession with transforming modes of communication. Dragon Tattoo is The Social Network (new media) vs. Zodiac (old, slow, unreliable media). Someone as tech savvy as Lisbeth can find out everything about anyone with a couple clicks, yet finds herself having to delve into a murder that’s five decades old, where the information takes weeks, months and scores of grunt work to acquire.
Of course, I’m grappling madly for significance here, just as Fincher surely was when he started work on it. This is still a film where the female lead enters the narrative proper only after she’s been raped, and which ultimately leads to an inane trash novel conclusion. Unlike its predecessor, this Dragon Tattoo is immaculately crafted, cooly smart and impeccably acted, with astonishing opening credits, a fantastic Enya joke and a Lisbeth who’s slightly more vulnerable than Noomi Rapace’s version and therefore less of a fanboy construct. But it’s still The Girl With the Fucking Dragon Tattoo.