Highly literate thriller that challenges and brain-teases. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo retains the filth and fury of its Swedish origins, as well as retains its location. The adaptation gives us Swedish characters and Daniel Craig, whom you can believe could live anywhere in the world. The great performance of the film is, you guessed it, Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander whom is as dangerously sociopathic a woman you can find. I don’t like piercings on woman’s noses and lips, and I certainly don’t like serpentine body art on women. It gets my blood to curdle. But Hannibal Lecter gets my blood to curdle and I’ll watch Anthony Hopkins play him anytime. Now it’s true, this series has an impossibly complicated storyline and countless characters to juggle. But David Fincher (“The Social Network,” “Seven”) is the absolute best director for the job in the way he laces this narrative with precision, visual lucidity, and yet with the right notes of titillation to josh our anticipation.
The sound design in a movie is not something I normally observe, but the work by Fincher and designer/mixer Ren Klyce, as well as music artists Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, is stellar. We feel the anxiety and nervous terror immediately, particularly during the psychedelic opening credit sequence that suggests Lisbeth as a mythological force, something of an arthropod textured in black latex wrapped for the cyberpunk era.
The introduction of Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) could have been made more distinct, but it unfolds gradually with clarity. He’s a disgraced journalist who is slammed with libel of an industrial tycoon. His Millennium magazine is in hot water but still stands by Mikael with fortitude. Still, Mikael decides to quit and is propositioned for another job. Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) is another industrialist on an island, but retired, who has been toiling in guilt for decades over the disappearance of his beloved niece who was 16-years old when last seen. Mikael learns of other crimes where young women were raped and killed, and thereon, goes beyond the role of writer-chronicler to full-on investigator.
Meanwhile in Stockholm, Lisbeth is introduced as a computer hacker commissioned by powerful corporations. She is a practicing lesbian, but not completely dismissive of heterosexual encounters. The first third is a concentrated account of revenge of Lisbeth, a ward of the State, against her legal guardian (Yorick van Wageningen), a quasi-bourgeois pig who blackmails her. The act of rape and torture is graphically harsh, and this guardian is particularly repellant in his smugness – but there is a sick puppy desire as you’re sitting there with anticipation for Lisbeth to turn the tables on him. Which she does with unforgettable psychotic wrath with aid of camera, dildo and tattoo gun.
Circumstances lead Mikael to Lisbeth, and vice versa. First, Mikael has to convince Lisbeth that he’s not offended that he was one of her previous surveillance subjects. He simply needs to commission the best, and while the job is demanding, Lisbeth is up for it. This is because the chance to capture a longtime evasive serial killer and sadist of women mirrors her childhood victimization, and so to succeed would be a just dessert.
Stieg Larsson’s acclaimed novel is a categorical whodunit, but what makes the whole “Dragon” series superior is that it has us hanging on for the why and how. And what makes Mara (“The Social Network”) a stupendous actress is convincing us for her connective rapport with Mikael, for scaring us with her “insane” fury, the way she is haunted by male violators and therefore is an instinctive crusader. If she wasn’t this insane, she wouldn’t be so cunningly intelligent. “Dragon Tattoo” challenges us to think and solve, and it pierces us into the heroine’s own dark vitality.
158 Minutes. Rated R.
MYSTERY-SUSPENSE / RACE AGAINST THE CLOCK THRILLER / LATE NIGHT THRILLS
Film Cousins: “Heavenly Creatures” (1994); “Movern Callar (2002); “Julia” (2009); “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2009, Sweden).