David Fincher directs Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara in this adaptation of Stieg Larrson’s novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
Despite universal trepidation (that gave way largely to excitement), America’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a faithful retelling of Stieg Larsson’s novel. Although Hollywood has created bastardised adaptations of perfectly good Swedish films, it does well here thanks largely to Fight Club director David Fincher.
For those who have neither seen the Swedish version or read the best-selling book, the story follows two characters; Mikael Blomkvist (played here by Daniel Craig) and Lisbeth Salander (the titular girl, played masterfully by Rooney Mara). Their story lines converge when Mikael employs Lisbeth to help him in his investigation into a mystery that has haunted the Vagner family for decades. Their lives are endangered when they try to uncover who is behind the sudden (and inexplicable) disappearance of young girl Harriet.
Like the novel, this mystery often takes a back seat and instead we’re immersed in the mystery that surrounds the enigmatic Lisbeth. Labelled as mentally deficient, she is a victim of the state. The film explores this predicament and portrays her harrowing experiences brilliantly, expertly capturing the sheer horror she endures. Lisbeth suffers grievous sexual assaults at the hands of her supposed carer, an act which the film portrays graphically. In doing this, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo highlights governmental corruption as well as introducing us to one of the most powerful on-screen females to have appeared in cinema for many years.
Rooney Mara excels as Lisbeth. Her movements and facial expressions all echo the treatment she has suffered but, despite her frail frame, she manages to capture Lisbeth’s strength. In revenging her rape, Mara’s Lisbeth rises from the ashes of her torture in phoenix-like style, managing to overcome her sadistic ‘rapist pig’ of a carer. Gone are the days of Mara playing pretty bit-parts – she’s entered the big leagues with her portrayal here.
Daniel Craig offers some light relief. Although playing a shamed journalist who apparently carries the world’s burden on his shoulders, his character manages to inject some albeit brief humour into the proceedings. The supporting cast is suitably mysterious in their whodunnit roles, all sporting matching Swedish accents to compliment the film’s Swedish background.
Comparisons with previous versions are inevitable but the film, if watched without prior knowledge of the story, is still engaging and works well as a stand alone piece. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo seems well fitted to Fincher, featuring as it does biblical references (Se7en), a strong female lead (Alien 3) and a gritty portrayal of everyday life (Fight Club). The world he paints here is grotty but realistic, bleak but hopeful and neatly mirrors the world described by Larsson.
Not for the squeamish, the film revels in the gore of its story. It’s well-weighted until the third act where the tension in the climatic revelation sequence is undermined by the meandering ending. Whereas the pace up until this point has fed us clues and intrigue, here it falters and gives an ending that almost feels unnecessary. Thankfully the film survives despite this flaw.
The film’s opening, complimented perfectly by Karen O’s Immigrant Song, oozes raw style and packs a James Bond-enthused punch that much of the film manages to live up to. Merging technology with Mara’s body, it is a promise of things to come, an introduction to the girl with the dragon tattoo who is as much of an enigma by the end of the film as she is at the beginning.
Its risque poster may have caught the attention of the media, but The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is about so much more – it’s telling that the book was originally called Men Who Hate Women. Fincher has created a perfectly viable adaptation of an engrossing book here, an adaptation that shouldn’t be dismissed.
Best performance: Rooney Mara as Lisbeth.