‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’
by Staff Writer
When director David Fincher and screenwriter Steve Zaillian set out to adapt Stieg Larsson’s international bestseller “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” into a full-length feature, many of the book’s fans held their breath in anticipation and potential anger as that challenge had already been undertaken by Swedish director Niels Arden Oplev in 2009. I can say that, regarding this English-speaking version, fans of the novel can mostly breathe easy.
This latest adaptation stars Daniel Craig as the disgraced, savvy journalist Mikael Blomkvist and Rooney Mara as the enigmatic, troubled, brilliant researcher Lisbeth Salander. The unlikely pair team up to try and solve the 40-year-old case of the disappearance, and probable murder, of a 16-year-old heiress.
You may remember Mara from her brief but attention-grabbing scenes as Mark Zuckerberg’s one-time girlfriend in “The Social Network,” also directed by Fincher. He put his trust in Mara for the titular role in his take on the Larsson novels. Mara answers the call brilliantly but Fincher’s adaptation does have a blemish or two.
His problem is the same any filmmaker would have in his place. Do you make a film so faithful to a wildly popular book that critics will say you were nothing more than a caretaker, or do you add your own stamp, your own take on the story? Fincher’s vision falls somewhere in between.
Readers of the book will find that most of Larsson’s story is intact and the grit and darkness that pervades the story like a cold Swedish winter is most certainly present in this film. On the other hand, fans of the book also will wonder at a couple of important omissions. I can’t go into much detail without diluting the strength of the mystery, but at least one curious change involves the manner of death of a major character. It’s a change that deeply alters the psychology of the story and the human psyche that’s at the heart of what makes this story so intriguing.
The film opens with Mikael being convicted of libel, a charge which puts his magazine, “Millenium,” in danger of collapse. On the heels of this disaster, he receives a request to take a meeting with the former CEO of one of Sweden’s largest corporations, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer). Vanger hires Blomkvist to use his investigative skills to look into the 1966 disappearance of his niece, Harriet. Mikael quickly finds clues others have missed.
Meanwhile, Lisbeth is butting heads with authority. As a ward of the state for most of her life, Lisbeth has learned to survive by being both taciturn and violent. When her kindly guardian has a stroke and is replaced by a sadistic ward, she takes matters into her own hands in one of the most disturbing scenes you will see all year.
Eventually, Mikael and Salander team up to solve Harriet’s disappearance and possible murder.
For the uninitiated viewer, Fincher’s film will be a taut, suspenseful, intelligent thriller. For devoted Larsson fans, there will be a few surprises, and perhaps even mild disappointments along the way. But Fincher largely gets it right. It doesn’t hurt to have a fantastic cast that includes veteran Stellan Skarsgård (“Good Will Hunting”), Steven Berkoff (“Octopussy”), Robin Wright (“The Princess Bride”), Joely Richardson (TV’s “Nip/Tuck”) and a disturbing performance by Yorick van Wageningen, who was equally delightful in “The Way” earlier this year.
Larsson’s book is a dense, complicated and intellectually satisfying mystery that involves dozens of characters and multiple plotlines. It can’t be easy to adapt such a story into a film, and Fincher and Zaillian (“All the King’s Men,” “Moneyball”) get credit for tackling such a hefty job with success. The pressure to make a film accessible to a mass audience – or, as I like to say, to ‘Hollywoodize” it – must be enormous and virtually no director, including Fincher, is immune to it. But the couple of times these filmmakers succumb to the pressure are not enough to dilute the suspense or thrills you’ll experience when you spend a couple of hours with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
Grade: 3 1/2 out of 4
MPAA Rating: R for brutal violent content including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language
Cast: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, -Christopher Plummer
Studio: Columbia Pictures