To quickly sum up, a journalist who has been convicted of libel (Daniel Craig), is summoned to a privately-owned island in the north of Sweden. A patriarch of a very rich family, Christopher Plummer, asks him to look into the disappearance of his niece some 40 years earlier. Plummer’s family is a gaggle of Nazis and other reprobates, and the whole thing has a kind of “locked door” quality to it, as there is only one way off the island and it was blocked by a traffic accident when the girl vanished.
Meanwhile, we meet Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), by now one of the most celebrated characters in contemporary pop literature. A computer genius with a troubled background, she has a face full of hardware, a body covered in ink, is sexually ambiguous, and isn’t trained in the social niceties. She investigates Craig’s background for Plummer’s lawyer, and then goes about dealing with her new legal guardian, who rapes her viciously. Her revenge is appropriately vicious in turn.
Eventually, of course, Craig and Mara team up, and I think they had better chemistry in this film. For one thing, the characterization of Mikael Blomkvist, as played by Craig, makes him much less of a lady’s man than he is in Larsson’s books. Salander is also less of a super-woman. There’s no inkling in this film that she has martial arts training–when her backpack is stolen in the subway, she retrieves it not like some sort of Jet Li in a Mohawk, but more like a very pissed off teenager. But, Zaillian sticks with the mistake of having the two become intimate. There’s just no reason for this, and it threw both films off their axis. The relationship would have been far more poignant if the attraction between them would have been more avuncular and unacted upon.
The film is over two and a half hours long but seems to go too fast in spots, as the mystery is pieced together rather quickly, to the effect of it being almost beside the point. My memory is fuzzy, but I don’t recall in the other film Blomkvist having a teenage daughter, who here clues him on the solution of a particular puzzle that rapidly unlocks everything else. Instead, Fincher is more concerned with mood, and the scenes that take place on the island reminded me of Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf, which had similar characters that were part monster. The opening credits, like something out of a Bond film, had scenes of a dripping oily substance on body parts, set to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” cuing us in for a macabre evening.
I enjoyed this film, and often it found it pulse-pounding, but it has some problems that are unfixable. The denouement, involving Mara helping Craig get revenge on the man who set him up, seems to go on forever. As stated, some of this is Larsson’s uninspired writing–does every villain really explain everything to the investigator before he tries to kill him? But the acting is good–Mara, while not outshining Noomi Repace, does strike me as a more vulnerable figure, and is difficult to take your eyes off of. It is a bit hypocritical, though, for a movie about cruelty to women to have Mara frequently undressed.
My grade for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: B.