The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
“The Feel Bad Movie of Christmas”
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer
Synopsis: Journalist Mikael Blomkvist is aided in his search for a woman who has been missing for forty years by Lisbeth Salander, a young computer hacker.
There was so much hype surrounding both the novels of deceased writer Stieg Larsson and the subsequent movie versions of his The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (the 2008 Swedish original, and this 2011 American version) that it would have taken nothing short of perfection to prevent David Fincher’s adaptation from being a disappointment. Sadly, his interpretation of Larsson’s dark style is not without its imperfections, chief of which is the difficulty he encounters trying to mould a sympathetic heroine out of the type of character most of us might cross the street to avoid.
Rooney Mara is Lisbeth Salander, the eponymous girl who bears the psychological scars of a harsh upbringing, and is now a ward of the state due to being declared legally incompetent as a child. When her existing ward suffers a stroke she is assigned to Nils Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen), who uses his position to sexually abuse her. Lisbeth would seem to be a typical victim, destined to be used and abused by all whose clutches she falls into. But, despite her outwardly reserved demeanour, she’s made of sterner stuff and takes a brutal revenge. And although Lisbeth is reserved and withdrawn – and possibly psychotic – she possesses a knack for research and computer hacking which makes her invaluable to the security company that employs her. One of her assignments is an investigation into the background of Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a reporter whose finances have been wiped out in a libel case brought against him by a ruthless businessman.
The report on Blomkvist has been commissioned by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), a wealthy industrialist whose extended family live in separate houses overlooking one another on an island. Vanger’s family members are not only largely estranged from one another but also include neo-Nazis amongst their number. Forty years ago Vanger’s niece Harriet disappeared during a family gathering on the island. Vanger and the police believe she is dead, but no body was ever found and each year he receives a pressed flower as an anonymous birthday present – as he used to from Harriet when she was alive. Haunted by her disappearance, Vanger has amassed a wealth of documentary evidence and hires Blomkvist to search it for any clues he may have missed.
Mikael’s story unfolds in parallel with that of Lisbeth for much of the movie, until Mikael, struggling to make sense of the mountain of information regarding Harriet’s disappearance, requests a research assistant. So the storylines of Lisbeth and Mikael converge at this point, resulting in a hesitant and strained relationship that eventually becomes sexual, although not necessarily romantic, and a plot that becomes considerably more focused.
Not having read the book upon which Fincher’s movie is based its difficult to say how faithful it is to it, but the labyrinthine plot and protracted conclusion suggest that it sticks fairly closely to the novel – and suffers as a result. What’s written on the printed page doesn’t always translate well to the screen, and this looks like a case in point. The mystery element to the story is pretty weak, and its resolution far-fetched, and edges towards horror once the bad guy is unveiled. But the deficiencies in the plot are counterbalanced by the performances, particularly that of Rooney Mara, who captures the curious mix of brooding intensity and vulnerability that defines her character. Craig does a good job of divesting himself of his James Bond persona, portraying Blomkvist as more of a thoughtful man; stubbled, untidy, and just a little dull. The leads are bolstered by a quality supporting cast led by Christopher Plummer, an actor who seems to get better with each role, despite reaching the age when most actors have long since hung up their boots.