The international best-selling thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo gets Hollywood treatment in this slick adaptation by director David Fincher. An opening title sequence by Blur Studio—all-black and abstract, set to “Immigrant Song” produced by the soundtrack’s composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross—sets a goth-punk tone for both the film and its titular character, the inimitable Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Fans of the book will be rightly gratified by this manifestation of the tiny, brilliant, pierced and tattooed hacker, but those who’ve read Stieg Larsson’s novel and especially seen the Swedish version with Noomi Rapace in the title role will inevitably find this rendition rather familiar.
Despite its title, Girl centers on a man, Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a Swedish investigative journalist who’s just been convicted of libeling a powerful business magnate. Depleted of his life savings, Mikael distances himself from Millennium, the upscale magazine he edits with his lover Erika Berger (Robin Wright), and accepts a job from Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), a retired industrialist who is convinced that a member of his dysfunctional extended family murdered his 16-year-old niece Harriet 40 years ago. Under the guise of writing Henrik’s memoirs, Mikael is to move to wintry Hedeby, the isolated island where the incident took place, and investigate Harriet’s death.
Meanwhile, Lisbeth, a ward of the state due to a violent childhood spent in and out of mental institutions, is assigned a new guardian who takes over her finances and demands sexual favors in exchange for her allowance. Lisbeth is not one to be victimized, though, and takes back control of both her financial situation and her sexuality in a couple of brutally graphic scenes. (It should be noted that Yorick van Wageningen brings a geniality to the guardian character that renders him even more vile than previous takes on the role.)
The setup to all of this takes off at a quick clip (seriously, pay attention and keep up), with snatches of scenes alluding to rather than explaining the background on Mikael’s scandal, Lisbeth’s sometimes job at a security firm, the investigation into Harriet’s death and how they all relate. At a certain point in his inquiry, Mikael determines he needs a research assistant. Henrik’s lawyer recommends the person who did the background check on Mikael before they hired him: Lisbeth.
Disturbed by the level of detail in her report on him (little does he know what she didn’t include), Mikael tracks down Lisbeth, and a mighty, if unlikely, partnership is forged. Their attraction to each other is the same as ours to them: He admires her computer skills and photographic memory; she admires his forthrightness and old-school gumshoe style of investigation. Although she looks more the part, they’re both outsiders with strong moral codes, especially when it comes to violence against women.
Mara fought hard for this much-coveted roles, and rightfully so: It’s a career-changer. As guarded as Lisbeth is—she rarely even makes eye contact—the role is naked and raw, physically and emotionally. Lisbeth’s costume by Trish Summerville (hoodies, leather and shredded denim), dark makeup by Pat McGrath, punk haircut by Danilo (including bleached eyebrows), piercings (some of them real) and elaborate tattoos create Lisbeth’s look, but ultimately it’s Mara who has to pull it off and deliver Lisbeth’s unique brand of cunning and power fueled by revenge. She’s a knockout.
Screenwriter Steve Zaillian penned his script directly from Larsson’s novel, neglecting to even mention in the film’s press notes the existence of a prior movie. Still, the two versions make many of the same smart editorial choices in condensing 600 (overwritten) pages into two-and-a-half hours. Small, if not insignificant, plot and character changes have been made while hitting many of the same beats.
Meanwhile, the major challenge remains the same: translating something as cerebral as puzzle-solving to a visual medium. Fincher accomplishes this seamlessly, deftly layering paperwork, photographs, computer screens, voiceovers and flashbacks—accompanied by Reznor and Ross’ atmospheric soundscape—so that Mikael, Lisbeth and the audience simultaneously come to the same awful conclusion. The mystery is somewhat spoiled and the surprises somewhat ruined if you’re familiar with the source material, but there’s also something satisfying about experiencing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo all over again.
Fincher’s film suffers the same fate as the Swedish version, in that there’s a protracted coda—even more pronounced here—that distances the denouement from the climax of the film. It’s all character-developing stuff, though, which is important for setting up the certain, deservedly anticipated sequel.
Writers: Steven Zaillian
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer & Stellan Skarsgård
Release Date: Dec. 21, 2011