The riveting, propulsive opening credits of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo conveys everything that director David Fincher could bring to the English-language adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s uber-best-seller.
Most of the rest of the film, unfortunately, reminds us of all the stuff he can’t change.
The centerpiece remains the crossed paths of two radically different characters: Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a Swedish journalist disgraced after a successful libel suit against him; and Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), the enigmatic, bisexual, pierced-and-tattooed computer hacker. And the plot remains Mikael’s convoluted investigation—hired by aging industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer)—into the long-ago disappearance of Vanger’s beloved niece, exposing the dark Vanger family secrets.
Superficially, the material feels like a good fit for Fincher, evoking the menace and human corruption of Seven. From grim darkness to white-blasted winter landscapes, there’s an impressive visual style at work, and Fincher’s mastery of pacing had me gripping my armrests during crucial scenes—this despite knowing from the Swedish film version exactly what to expect.
But structurally, Dragon Tattoo is a plot-heavy potboiler, a tale in which long stretches consist of Blomkvist conducting expository interviews with one or another member of the Vanger family, occasionally punctuated by sex scenes (both consensual and decidedly, brutally, non-consensual). Steven Zaillian’s script may soften up Lisbeth’s character a touch—Mara’s performance is solid, though a bit of a step down from Noomi Rapace’s indelible portrayal—but otherwise remains meticulously faithful to the plot machinations. And that means a 20-minute denouement that loses all the momentum from the intense climax.
Larsson’s Millennium trilogy deserves credit for introducing an iconic pop-culture character, but The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo demands that you slog through 150 minutes for the doses of Lisbeth Salander that it parcels out. Fincher can only bring so much auteur flair to such a shaky foundation.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer