By Joan Ellis
With the exception of a prolonged siege of brutal sexual violence, everything about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is terrific. Unfortunately, the siege is essential in establishing misogyny as the underpinning of the film. Director David Fincher faced a tough task considering the enormous popularity of Stieg Larson’s novels and the movies made of them in Sweden. He has succeeded in making an instant classic of this mystery/thriller.
Fincher accomplishes the unlikely in three ways: superb timing, great filming, and close to perfect casting. I remember writing about my doubts that an American version could succeed because Noomi Rapace would be irreplaceable as Lisbeth Salander. How wrong I was. Rooney Mara makes Salander her own.
Salander is that most elusive thing – a lead character so swathed in mystery that we spend most of the film wanting to understand her. Damaged, but private, she is someone who reveals nothing about her inner self until suddenly, and only occasionally, she snaps out a short rebuke or dispatches an enemy without comment. She then plants the black motorcycle helmet on her head and roars off into the darkness. Lacking any degree of comfort with other human beings, she is always pursuing a goal, usually standing at her computer – never time to sit – where her skills are without limit.
With the main role firmly and finely in place, Daniel Craig steps in and cloaks Mikael Blomkvist, journalist and editor, with his own engaging version of an investigative reporter. Teaming with Salander, he quickly comes to respect both her superior research skills and her fierce fearlessness. Asking nothing of her but her skill, he wins both her respect and her loyalty.
When they meet, Blomkvist has been driven from his magazine while Salander has been savagely beaten and raped by the trustee of her funds (she is a ward of the state). You need money? Do this. As investigators, they are hired to tackle a crime that took place in the Vanger family 40 years ago. By way of introduction, the Vanger patriarch, (a sublime Christopher Plummer) says, “You will be investigating the most detestable group of people you have ever met – my family.”
The bridge that brings people to and from the family island becomes a central focus in the film. Whipped by wind in darkness lit only by the brilliance of snow, the mere sight of the bridge alarms us. Even in a warm theater, we are cold. Director Fincher knows how to give the invaluable gift of a sense of place.
Just try to keep your eyes off Christopher Plummer. Is there a finer actor on stage or screen? Joely Richardson, Robin Wright, Stellan Skarsgard, and Moa Garpendal give marvelous support to Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara. All are key players in a curiously compelling story. It may be dark, but David Fincher has made sure the story, the actors, and the location transcend the grisly brutality at its core.