Girl with Dragon Tattoo ✮✮✮
by Glenn Lovell
It takes most of the grim but startling “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” for journalist Mikael Blomkvist to get around to asking Lisbeth Salander why, at age 23, she’s a hard case, a ward of the state. Blomkvist as played by Daniel Craig is a smart guy, but he’s well behind us on this one. We’ve seen Lisbeth (Rooney Mara) in action, dispatching a mugger and a rapist and other assorted mad-dog types.
We know why this goth queen-hacker is feared by the establishment. Like the prototypical private eye or gunslinger, Lisbeth (spiked hair, black leather, requisite piercings) plays by her own rules. And heaven help anyone who underestimates her skills at the keyboard or in close-quarters combat.
Little wonder Hollywood couldn’t wait to get its hands on this character. At the moment, Lisbeth has no equal on page or screen. Combining the stealth of a Catwoman with the martial arts prowess of a Michelle Yeoh, she brings to mind Annie Parillaud’s cold-blooded government assassin in “La Femme Nikita.” Only Lisbeth is more cunning, more dangerous … more original.
If you’ve read the book and/or seen the excellent 2009 Swedish adaptation of “Dragon Tattoo,” the first in Stieg Larsson’s “Girl” trilogy, you’re in good shape. The David Fincher remake ‒ now at the Camera Cinemas and other area theaters ‒ moves quickly and assumes a fair amount of background knowledge. But that’s as it should be. This is a brooding, cerebral story ‒ Ingmar Bergman by way of Dean Koontz, if you will. It starts out as a serpentine conspiracy thriller and slowly constricts as it plays out as the hunt for a killer (or killers) inspired by verses in the Old Testament. Sound familiar? Isn’t this a variation on Fincher’s “Seven”?
We meet Craig’s Blomkvist exiting a Stockholm courthouse. He’s been found guilty of libel in a high-profile case and, by his own admission, is dead in the water professionally. Which makes him ripe for exile to a northern island to work for Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), an elderly industrialist who wants him to investigate the disappearance of a niece who went missing 40 year old ago. Vanger has always suspected foul play. Blomkvist’s research brings him into contact with the Vanger clan ‒ a gaggle of “thieves, misers, bullies,” including nephew Martin (Stellar Skarsgård) ‒ and unearths a diary with cryptic initials and numbers. It’s only when Lisbeth joins the hunt that the pieces begin to slide into place and what was thought to be a single crime begins to look suspiciously like a series of gruesome ritualistic slayings.
Whether you think this adaptation of the Larsson book, adapted by Oscar-winning screenwriter Steven Zaillian and set to a brilliant metallic score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, is an improvement on the earlier one will depend on your priorities. If you’re into character and (brrr) near-whiteout conditions, you’ll be fine. If you’re more into the mechanics of plot, you’ll be in for a slight disappointment. Fincher’s focus is on the unlikely Blomkvist-Salander relationship and by film’s end we definitely understand why Lisbeth isn’t on speaking terms with her former boss/bedmate. Zaillian has also tightened the novel’s narrative, disposing of subplots and even changing the book’s messy ending, which necessitated an anticlimactic side trip to Australia.
I personally favor the Swedish “Dragon.” I found it creepier and more exhilarating, especially as the Old School/New School investigatory methods kicked in. A good part of this, I suspect, has to do with a Scandinavian story being told by Scandinavian filmmakers who, comfortable with the remote, frigid setting, made it an integral part of the story. Fincher, for all his care, comes off as a tourist, a day tripper, someone anxious to share his snaps of the pretty scenery.
As for Mara’s Lisbeth, who’s being touted for Oscar recognition, she is quite memorable, a fierce blend of the methodical and the primal. Is she better than Noomi Rapace’s Lisbeth? Not in my book. But then, to be fair, first impressions have a way of scorching their way onto the subconscious.
Hollywood’s handling of books two and three ‒ “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” ‒ should be an improvement because the Swedish movie adaptations were slavish and boring and our expectations going in won’t be nearly so high.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO ✮✮✮ With Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Robin Wright. Directed by David Fincher; scripted by Steven Zaillian from the novel by Stieg Larsson. 158 min. Rated R (for profanity, nudity, violence, graphic rape scene)