THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Starring Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, StellanSkarsgard, Steven Berkoff, Robyn Wright, Joely Richardson. Directed by David Fincher. Rated MA 15+ (Strong sexual violence, themes, sex scenes and violence). 158 minutes.
Most fans of the late Swedish writer Stieg Larsson’s popular ‘Millennium series’ of crime novels will be pleased with this new English-language adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, directed with Nordic-style naturalism by David Fincher (Fight Club, Panic Room, The Social Network).
Scripted by Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, Mission: Impossible), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (originally titled Men Who Hate Women) is the first book in the trilogy, and the long, complex narrative unfolds with a clarity and conciseness that is missing from Niels Arden Oplev’s otherwise enjoyable Swedish version, made in 2009.
Filmed in Stockholm, Daniel Craig (Casino Royale, Defiance) plays Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist and co-owner of the cutting-edge political magazine Millennium, who is defeated in court in his attempt to bring a corrupt businessman, Hans-Erik Wennerstrom (Ulf Friberg) to justice.
Blomkvist is approached by a business magnate HenrikVanger (Christopher Plummer) to write his family’s history and investigate the mysterious disappearance 40 years previously of Vanger’s troubled niece, Harriet Vangger. Blomkvist agrees, but only if Vanger promises to give Blomkvist damming information about Wennerstrom, who was once the magnate’s employee.
Blomkvist moves to a cottage on Vanger’s estate, and is helped in his investigations into the Vanger family’s history and Harriet’s disappearance by LisbethSalander (Rooney Mara, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Social Network), a withdrawn, asocial computer hacker and ward of the state, who compiled a background check on Blomkvist before he was pronounced ‘clean’, and hired by Vanger.
But the more Salander and Blomkvist dig into the past,the secrets they uncover not only throw their own lives into jeopardy: they reveal uncomfortable facts about Sweden today.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattooismore than two and a half hours long, and there are several scenes that not everyone will enjoy or approve of. Bi-sexual, covered with tattoos and piercings, and a ward of the state because she is considered to be mentally unstable, Salander is a feminist hero to millions of the books’ fans worldwide, because she gives as good as she gets, despite her slight build and gender. What the state cannot give by way of justice, Salander provides herself, and the scene in which she punishes her rapist and legal guardian by exacting an ‘eye for an eye’, is confronting to say the least.
Fincher’s Blomkvist(Daniel Craig) is more virile and manly than the Swedish version’s avuncular character played by Michael Nyqvist (As it is in Heaven), and this accords with the novel’s more overt sexuality between Blomkvist and Lisbeth.
Another change is the decision to run Salander’s and Blomkvist’s stories parallel to each other, with the characters only coming together and working as a team midway through the film. This strengthens the focus on both characters, as well as providing plot clarity, but at the same time dilutes something of Salander’s singularity and dangerous vulnerability.
What cannot be faulted however is the acting of the stellar cast, and Fincher’s moody, low-key capturing of dark forces dangerously at work beneath the smooth surface of contemporary Swedish society.
Jan Epstein is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.