Fincher's turn at the helm, aided much by a smoother Steven Zaillian script, is a marked improvement. For starters, it's David Fucking Fincher behind the camera (at least in the larger, non-literal sense). Whatever issues one may have had with relative duds Panic Room and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, his entire catalog of films look fucking amazing. He has an aptitude for the aesthetic aspects of film-making that few working directors have. If one only partially subscribed to auteur theory feeling only comfortable applying the name to a select few directors, there is no goddamn way that label wouldn't be attached to David Fincher. The ambiance he builds in his films lend to an unease among the viewership, especially in his darker works. Setting him loose on a wintry Scandinavian crime tale with very dark elements seems like it is perhaps the most logical choice for this Americanization. His adeptness in the arena of mise-en-scene set his film apart from both other entrants in the contest.
Honestly, from the moment that the opening credits kicked off, I was sold. The all-black nightmarish tar sequence set against the sonic backdrop of the heavy Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross/Karen O cover of "Immigrant Song" is unsettling and rocks the audience. Karen O's vocals are fucking awesome. The duality of Karen O, who I'm both afraid of and drawn to, is perfect for this song, and the duo of Reznor and Ross clearly have something going here in the wake of their second straight stellar Fincher score, this one seeming to have only been topped by this year's Cliff Martinez Drive score.
Past mise-en-scene and score, there is still quite a bit to like about Fincher's rendition of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It's primary asset is in its casting. Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara have great chemistry together, and Craig (unlike his Swedish counterpart Michael Nyqvist) is clearly handsome enough to be able to reasonably attract the much younger Salander. Apologies to all who find this take on the Swedish film, but from a strictly superficial standpoint, it simply was not believable that she would jump him. Both inhabit their roles with aplomb. The secondary characters are well-cast, too. It is difficult to imagine a better [non-Swedish] fit for the role of Henrik Vanger than Christopher Plummer. While not as meaty a role as his fantastic turn in Beginners, he holds down the role of tortured patriarch with the requisite gravitas. Stellan Skargard has the range required to pull off the role of Martin Vanger, even if much of his character-development is left out of the finished product.
Given all the praise I have heaped upon this film, it would almost seem as though I took no issue with the film. That would not be the case. Unfortunately, just as with the novel and the Swedish film adaptation, the bookending of all of the developments in the Mikael Blomqvist storyline leads to a disjointed and unearned redemption. He falls from grace, goes to the country with his tail between his legs, ignores his problems under the condition that his efforts will be rewarded in the delivery of Wennerstrom's head on a platter, and passes the next two-plus hours working on the interesting mystery while the resolution of his own problems is COMPLETELY IGNORED. How is this not problematic? Sorry if the arm-chair screenwriting is coming off as a bit pedantic but wouldn't the obvious solution to this problem be to have Lisbeth conducting her own investigation into Wennerstrom in secret and parceling out that information occasionally throughout the narrative? Without something of that nature, no one gives a fuck about what happens to Blomqvist by the time the Harriet mystery is resolved because they've been encouraged to forget about his problems by the fact that any mention of his redemption story virtually disappears from the screen for the greater course of the movie.
It is just so goddamn frustrating to see a story that could have been great told in such an anti-climactic way when such an obvious solution lies right there in plain view. Luckily, Fincher's vision carries this film into a realm that its Swedish predecessor was unable to enter. Most of the potential plot-holes in the emphasis on narrative economy are circumvented with efficient use of the montage and other non-dialogue driven information provided on-screen. The only real issue, and it is a big one, is the aforementioned disappearance of the Blomqvist story only to find ourselves right back in it well past the point at which we all forgot about it. Once forgiving this shortcoming, it is evident that this is as close to being great as anyone has gotten with this story, which is saying something.