Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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The main draw of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, David Fincher Edition, is that we want to see what this director will do with it, although we can sort of guess that the crucial thing he’ll do is make a ton of money.

Brutal and mesmerizing, David Finsher’s adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo features supremely gutsy performances from Rooney Mara (above) and Daniel Craig, and leaves no skeleton un-closeted. Photo courtesy Columbia Pictures.

It’s still not even three years since the first book in Stieg Larsson’s sensation-spawning “Millennium Trilogy” became a Swedish film, but getting over our remake gag reflex somehow seems easier when the remaker in question is a luxe stylist of serial-killer thrillers. Fincher’s supremely slick opening credits sequence right away suggests a new way to see this: not as merely another unnecessary English-language effigy of European box-office success, but as some kind of radical nouveau Bond flick, complete with Daniel Craig in the lead role, from the hand of the director of Se7en and Zodiac.

This whole setup suits Fincher’s pervy predilections all too well: In an atmosphere foul with family secrets, brutal sexual violence, and murder, a dubiously disgraced journalist (Craig) and a disturbed computer hacker (Rooney Mara) form an unlikely crime-solving alliance. The mood is by turns brooding and cheeky. The method is technically exacting. The temperature is not warm.

It begins with the journalist getting summoned to a nest of wealthy Swedish industrialists. They have their own private island and ample skeleton space in the family closets, or basement torture chambers, as the case may be. Their reigning patriarch, an elderly tycoon played by Christopher Plummer, has commissioned a biography of himself, but what he really wants is an investigation of the presumed murder of a beloved niece several decades ago. He describes the rest of the family, which includes Stellan Skarsgård, as “the most detestable collection of people you will ever meet.” The journalist does his legwork and determines this claim to be a fair one.

As for the girl with the dragon tattoo, we may infer her family to be nearly as detestable as the tycoon’s, and in any case, she is now a ward of the state, whose caseworker is also her rapist. She first encounters the journalist as he’s checking this man’s background. Then she becomes the journalist’s assistant, then his lover. He already has a lover, who is also his editor, and is played by Robin Wright, but that doesn’t much matter, just as it doesn’t much matter that Wright troubles herself to affect a Swedish accent and Craig doesn’t.

The movie works briskly through its coils of retributory sadism, keeping a straight face even during what amounts to an overly explanatory Scooby Doo-ish ending. Some credit for Dragon Tattoo’s efficiency seems due to screenwriter Steven Zaillian, but as we’ve established, this was a tale promiscuous enough to freely drift between its tellers, and now here it is as a film by David Fincher—a very dark one, where lurking actors give off glints of their charisma. It sells itself.

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