The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
I’m an existing fan of Steig Larsson’s trilogy, and I’ve seen the three Swedish films based on his work. I thought them serviceable if not inspiring, but I would not have thought the material offered sufficient nuance as to support a Hollywood retelling of the books that could claim more than better acting as its hook. I’m pleased to report that I was wrong. Not only is David Fincher’s take on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo tense, emotional and appropriately dark; it also features a thematic correction that elevates it beyond overt or copycat storytelling.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, it won’t hurt to get a primer; screenwriter Steven Zaillian moves swiftly - but elegantly - through exposition, meaning you’ve got to engage the brain to keep up. It’s the story of an unlikely friendship between Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), who takes on the forty-year-old mystery of a missing teenager after his investigative journalistic career takes a sour turn, and a bixesual anti-establishment goth girl named Lizbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), who first investigates Blomkvist, then turns her attention to the serial killer Mikael fingers for the murder of his research subject. The path to solving the crime lies with the mysterious and suspicious Vanger family: suffering patriarch Henrik (Christopher Plummer) and his affable son Martin (Stellan Skarsgard) - who is brother to the missing girl - among others.
The above, of course, is but the plot that requires the most time to be told; Lisbeth’s sufferance at the hands of her state guardian (and her highly enjoyable, extremely memorable retribution) and Blomkvist’s revenge at the man who deceptively undermined his journalism career - among other smaller literary contrivances - play second fiddle in large part. But unlike Niels Arden Oplev’s Swedish adaptation, Fincher doesn’t play these supporting timelines for thrills, cutting or speeding up what is likely to not resonate with audiences on the plotted mainline - for instance, Mikhael’s relationship with business partner Erika (Robin Wright). Instead, Zaillian and Fincher allow Larsson’s characters to breathe freely, their individual emotional development explored at the expense of running length and incessant bombardment of activity onscreen (we’ve seen enough of that).
That’s not to say that Fincher doesn’t know how to slap together a suspenseful flick; Tattoo is a perfect vehicle for his wildly visual cinematic penchant for dystopia, mixing as it does sexual depravity, vicious murder, Nazism and moral ambiguity in a tightly-wound setting. But he’s perceptive enough to realize that solving the Vangar mystery isn’t the true spine of the tale; it’s a vehicle for bringing two very complex, emotionally-challenged individuals together for a single purpose, and exploring how they impact each other’s lives. Those who feel that the film ends on a whimper in its final scene should instead consider the emotional arc that has (temporarily) run its course in Lisbeth and Mikael.
Craig is as watchable as ever; his Mikael is gratifyingly human, at one moment preoccupied with the mysteries in front of him and in the next confounded by the turbulence of his attachments to women. He’s supported well by Plummer, Skarsgard, Steven Berkoff and Wright - and it must be said that Yorick van Wageningen delivers a highly nuanced, well-crafted, loathsome guardian for Lisbeth.
But this is Mara’s film, in the same way that Noomi Rapace’s portrayal of Lisbeth dominated the Swedish pictures. Mara looks nothing like the sweet if disenchanted college girl from the opening scenes of "The Social Network." Sporting an array of piercings and tattoos, bleached eyebrows and a haircut that could only be described as unfortunate, she simmers in rage, defiance and condescension for the majority of the movie - usually and surprisingly without rearranging her facial features - and then, when she finally learns to depend on another human, she falls subject to emotions tragically unfamiliar to the societally aloof and devolves into self-deprecation and disillusionment. She’s simply riveting to watch despite playing an enormously well-crafted literary character.
What surprised me most was the fact that, as familiar with the source material and subsequent Swedish outing as I am, I was still highly entertained by this Tattoo. It departs from its predecessor in shot composition, editing, pace and visual style to a degree that the two movies seem almost as if they’re telling different stories. And we are better for Fincher’s version.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Mikael Blomkvist :: Daniel Craig
Lisbeth Salander :: Rooney Mara
Henrik Vanger :: Christopher Plummer
Martin Vanger :: Stellan Skarsgard
Erika Berger :: Robin Wright
Nils Bjurman :: Yorik van Wageningen
Anita Vanger :: Joely Richardson
Dirch Frode :: Steven Berkoff
Cecilia Vanger :: Geraldine James
Armansky :: Goran Visnjic
Det. Morell :: Donald Sumpter
öm :: Ulf Friberg
Palmgren :: Bengt Carlsson
Plague :: Tony Way
Harald :: Per Myrberg
Pernilla :: Josefin Asplund
Anna :: Eva Fritjofson
Harriet :: Moa Garpendal
Young Anna :: Maia Bergqvist
Young Cecilia :: Sarah Appelberg
Young Henrik :: Julian Sands
Director, David Fincher; Executive Producer, Steven Zaillian; Producer, Scott Rudin; Producer, Ole Sondberg; Producer, Soren Staermose; Producer, án Chaffin; Executive Producer, Mikael Wallen; Executive Producer, Anni Fernandez; Cinematographer, Jeff Cronenweth; Production Design, Donald Burt; Film Editor, Kirk Baxter; Film Editor, Angus Wall; Costume Designer, Trish Summerville; Original Music, Trent Reznor; Original Music, Atticus Ross; Casting, Laray Mayfield.