I haven’t seen the Swedish adaptations, nor read the Stieg Larsson books on which they are based, which either makes me hopelessly unqualified to comment on this piece of the franchise, or a blank slate for judging this film on its own terms. All I can say is that I once overheard sections of the audiobook, and it seemed to involve mostly people emailing each other (here’s a full plot synopsis if you need it). After The Social Network, I wondered if David Fincher was going to go one step further and make a whole film about electronic communication. Not quite.
In his cycle of serial-killer films, of which this is the third entry after Seven and Zodiac, Fincher loves filming texts, books, photographs, writing, sometimes writing on the body: what is Seven if not a series of statements written in the flesh of murder victims and left behind for detectives to ‘read’? In this film, Lisbeth Salander inscribes her own body with tattoos that memorialise her experiences, and joins investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig, signalling that he’s in thoughtful mode by putting on spectacles, pudging up a bit, and getting the crap kicked out of him) on the cold trail of a misogynistic serial murderer whose victims are similarly posed as moralistic messages written in the form of punished bodies.
Together, they follow a network of clues found in photographs, archived documents, hacked emails, court records, more photographs. As usual, Fincher applies his trademark brand of meticulous control to the composition and the colour of every frame, using visual effects to fine-tune his environments to his exact specifications.
This can have the effect of making even simple dialogue scenes needlessly fussed-over, but it also adds a bristling coldness that matches this subject matter effectively. It certainly underscores Fincher’s sense of a legible, ordered world, filled with nested narrative secrets, that exists as a navigable labyrinth of textual clues (which even extended to the viral marketing campaign), everything in its place for those with the spectatorial focus sharp enough to see it.