If Bella Swan of “Twilight” infamy is the archetype for every subordinate female lead, Lisbeth Salander, the punk fashionista at the crux of Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” novel series, is her antithesis; her independence and inability to conform — physically and intellectually — makes her the forerunner of the New Age feminist movement. Pierced, inked, and declared socially incapable, this computer hacker is the focus of David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first English-language adaptation of the Swedish franchise.
However, the film (penned by “Schindler’s List” scribe Steven Zaillian) opens on disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), being assigned to investigate a wealthy patriarch’s (Christopher Plummer) family — a detestable clan of Nazis, business tycoons, and liars — and their involvement in the disappearance of his niece. Promised redemption for a botched article that landed him in hot water, he seeks out Salander (Rooney Mara), who’s especially interested in the notion of an active serial killer who only targets women.
Unlike a lot of modern literature dug up as movie fodder, Larsson’s books are more than a minor hit. After being posthumously translated, critical-acclaim quickly attracted a large readership in the States (particularly amongst the MILF community), where clubs and forums have been spreading like cancer. With that said, hardcore fans must be aware of Niels Arden Oplev’s 2009 effort to accommodate the first story onto film. Shot for a meager $13 million, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor)” became an unexpected hit, and its success inspired two sequels. Though, if you’ve watched them, there won’t be a lot to see in Fincher’s version.
It’s definitely more digestible though. But while Fincher’s take is engineered to lure in larger crowds, the themes aren’t smudged out. It’s the brutality that’s toned down. Even the addition of Blomkvist and Salander’s fatal attraction (an aspect Oplev only glossed over) is surprisingly solid. It fits perfectly into a film marketed as “the feel bad movie of Christmas.”
Fincher does improve on the original’s faults — namely via his rapid-fire cinematography and atmospheric soundtrack. The director replaces grueling shots with gritty visuals and intense camerawork. He uses a lot of cutaways and close-ups to maintain the audience’s attention, and the score — a series of drones and drums machines — is far superior to its Swedish counterpart. Plus the dry humor is a nice touch.
And although Craig and Mara are strong performers, they don’t add much to their characters — the latter even tries desperately to replicate Noomi Rapace’s (the first actress to play Lisbeth) hallmark accent. Yet if I had to choose a standout, it’d be Plummer, who gives off a nefarious vibe that’s hard to shake. I couldn’t help but suspect his every action, despite knowing the ending beforehand.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is hard to rate. It’s unfair to fault the filmmakers for releasing a movie with source material that’s already been done well. On the flipside, part of my job is keep wallets fat (and since the originals are streaming on Netflix, it saves current subscribers $13-or-so per ticket). And there isn’t enough of a distinction between Fincher’s works and Oplev’s to suggest one over the other. It’s all about personal preference. But, for the sake of constructive criticism (and to protect myself from hurtful comments on how I’m an idiot), I’ll just stick to the middle-ground.