“Lisbeth, oh Lisbeth. Say, have you met Lisbeth, Lisbeth the dragon-tattooed lady?”
The biggest mystery behind David Fincher’s icy thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is why the auteur felt the need to remake the adequate if unspectacular Swedish original in the first place. After seeing the movie itself, that question remains unanswered. It’s got style to burn and a couple of leads who are infinitely more charismatic than their Swedish counterparts, but it’s still the same ordinary, old-fashioned whodunit wrapped up in modern psychosexual trappings with the same male-fantasy-disguised-as- feminist-superhero pushing all the buttons. That’s fine and, if you haven’t read the book or seen the original, that might be enough. But if you have, there’s really not a whole lot to see here. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not bad, but is this the movie the collective internets have been hyperventilating over for the last year and a half? Really?
Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist a journalist disgraced by a libel conviction who is hired to investigate a 45-year-old mystery involving the disappearance of the daughter of the richest, most powerful family in Sweden. Rooney Mara is jet black-haired, dragon-tattooed and pierced cyberpunk princess Lisbeth Salander, the hacker extraordinaire Blomkvist recruits to do all the hard stuff while he scratches his head looking befuddled. Christopher Plummer plays Henrik Vanger, the old man who for some reason wants to figure out what happened to his niece 45 years later and Stellan Skarsgard plays Harriet’s surviving brother Martin, one of a long list of suspects.
Being rich and powerful, the Vangers have all kinds of skeletons in their closets, not the least of which is a streak if Nazism, but Harriet’s disappearance just might be tied in some way to a rash of religiously motivated serial killings. It’s not much of a mystery really, but it’s made more interesting by Lisbeth’s side story. She’s a ward of the state being abused by the man assigned to her case. How she gets out from under him and takes her revenge is far more interesting (and surprising) than the goings on of the Vangers. There’s also a long coda to the main story involving Mikael getting his good name back, but honestly this would’ve all been better left to the inevitable sequel. Clocking in around 2 hours and 45 minutes, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo simply takes more time than its substance or entertainment value earn.
The zestiest part is a music video disguised as an opening credits sequence set to Karen O’s cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” Why this song? because it has a lyric about ice and snow and Valhalla and that’s kinda Scandinavian, right? Though entertaining and though the silver and black, CG-dominated sequence fits the film’s fetishistic marketing and overall production design, tonally it doesn’t really match what comes after it. It sets you up for a story with a lot more juice than the surprisingly ordinary tale ultimately delivers.
The good news is that Daniel Craig and especially Rooney Mara are much more engaging than either Michael Nyqvist or the heavily hyped Noomi Rapace from the 2009 original adaptation. Mara can do feral as well as Rapace, but she can also be convincingly soft and the range in between is filled with more subtle character details. It’s an all around more nuanced and more entertaining performance – which is no small thing because the story really does belong to its title character. It’s Mara’s for the taking and she makes it hers.
Technically, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is as unimpeachable as you’d expect from a perfectionist like Fincher, but the most striking and memorable aspect is the terrific, non-traditional score by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor which lends a creepy, almost subliminal feeling of unease to the rather conventional on-screen goings on. Everything else unfortunately has the perfunctory feeling of something we’ve already seen and done before… and we have. In the Fincher filmmography, this one falls somewhere below Panic Room.