The story behind “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is an intricate web of plots rife with corruption, abuse, and violence surrounding the investigation of a corrupt family questioned about a murder some 40 years prior. Adapted for the screen by David Fincher from Stieg Larsson’s captivating best selling trilogy, the initial film descriptively brings the pages of the book to life and manages to stay remarkably true to Larsson’s vision.
The film opens with Millenium Magazine journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) having just been successfully sued for libel by the Wennerstrom Corporation, of which he’d been previously investigating with the hopes of exposing the conglomerate’s corruption. With his intergrity and career in doubt, Blomkvist is contactedby the former CEO of another huge corporation- Vanger Industries- Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) who requests Blomkvist to travel north to Hedestad, to solve the mysterious dissappearance of his niece Harriet, unsolved since 1966. With the promise of Vanger delivering damaging evidence against Wennerstrom and dangling considerable money for his time in front of him, Blomkvist is tasked with investigating the entire Vanger family based on Henrik’s suspicions, each of whom lives in close proximity on the same island. After consideration, Blomkvist accepts the assignment and as he begins to piece together much of the evidence that former investigators had collected, he discovers that the case is more than he alone can handle. Based upon recommendation, he brings on a young, troubled girl as his research assistant- Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Her appearance and her methods are unorthodox, but are successful nonetheless, and when the two realize they’ve connected the dots, Blomkvist realizes just how much danger his life is in and just how much he needs Salander’s help.
As the plot begins to take shape, the overarching usage of sexuality and power becomes more and more palpable, much of which revolves around the pierced and slight of frame Salander. We learn that the talented, but complex and mysterious young woman comes from a supremely troubled upbringing. Yet, despite a checkered past, her cunningness and use of her own sexuality remain her most useful assets and during times when she appears most physically vulnerable, she always seems to have the wherewithal to regain her comeuppance. Her previous dealings with authoritative figures however, have left her unable to trust most men, until she begins to work alongside Blomkvist and she realizes that without trusting each other, both of their lives are at risk.
As a reader of the trilogy, Fincher must be commended for portraying the initial novel so accurately. From Sweden’s majestic scenery in the cityscape to the countryside, to the cast of characters, to a dynamic screenplay, the director managed to put his signature stamp on the film without damaging the integrity of the literature. That said, even with a 2 hour 38 minute runtime, parts of the film did feel a bit rushed, leaving us wondering how quickly non-readers will be able to put together the pieces of the convoluted plot. But even with the long runtime, the film played almost like an elongated version of an episode of Law & Order: SVU- one that you simply didn’t want to end.
Unfortunately, due to the graphic nature of Larsson’s writing, the film does have some visually uncomfortable scenes, but that notwithstanding, they are excellently delivered by Mara, a perfect choice to play the aggressive and ruthless, yet petite Salander. Although perhaps Mara was a bit too dressed down to cover up the prettier in print version of the young woman, Salander the character, because of all of the abuse she’s suffered, immediately becomes one that an audience can champion to persevere. Craig’s performance, while also commendable, shies away from Larsson’s middle ground between goofy journalist and womanizing playboy, focusing mainly on his talents as an investigator and essentially ignoring his good looks. But Craig plays a suitable Blomkvist, the talented, fallen hero trying to restore credibility to a name that once carried a great deal of weight, in a film that largely delivers in Larsson’s mold of intrigue, violence, and mystery. Perhaps it’s better if you haven’t yet read the book before seeing this film- it will prevent you from nitpicking many of the minor details ignored in an otherwise elaborately crafted movie.
“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is rated R, starring Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, and Christopher Plummer, has a runtime of 158 minutes, and opens in theaters everywhere Wednesday, December, 21st
- Jane Van Arsdale