The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
The first book in novelist Steig Larsson’s posthumously-published crime trilogy was brought to the screen in Sweden nearly 3 years ago. The second and final novels were also filmed there, but thanks to the runaway popularity of the books here in this country, Larsson’s nearly impenetrable ruminations about political corruption, sexual deviancy and gruesome violence inspired Sony Pictures to purchase the rights to re-make all three films in Hollywood, with new scripts and a completely different cast. The first, directed by Hollywood A-list director David Fincher (The Social Network, Zodiac, Fight Club et. al) stars Daniel Craig (the current James Bond) and an accomplished supporting cast. The result is a handsome production which moves at the relentless pace the material requires - - but is it as good as the original?
Craig plays Michael Blomkvist, a discredited investigative journalist hired by ailing Swedish industrialist Henrich Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to unravel, some 40 years after the fact, the mysterious disappearance of Vanger’s granddaughter. Offered complete access to his employer’s extensive files and those of the many companies in his industrial empire, Blomkvist quickly finds himself stymied in his search and turns to a “research assistant” named Lisbeth Salander, a mysterious young computer expert whose secretive nature, photographic memory, dazzling computer skills and Yakusa-style body art provide much of the grist - - and no small part - - of this film’s storyline and the two which will surely follow.
Fincher works with a sure narrative hand, alternating between Blomkvist’s conventional investigative plodding and Salander’s often illegal (if morally compelling) to unravel the involvement of Vanger’s extended family who live with the patriarch on an island compound in the cold, under-populated northern region of that country. As this pair of unorthodox amateur detectives scrape away layer after layer of familial deceit and corruption, they face intimidation, then threats - - then attempts on their lives by someone intent on preventing them from uncovering a trail of murder, sexual deviation and cover-up made possible because of secrets jealously kept by powerful members of Swedish society…
If Tattoo seems burdened with a good deal of unnecessary background into Salander’s life, it’s because she figures so prominently in the sequels, a fact the director mentions late in this movie and then only in passing. The script by Steve Zillian, (a sure Oscar nominee this year for Moneyball) provides the enigmatic Salander (played by Rooney Mara) with ample opportunity to display sundry sexual proclivities along with her ability to handle stun guns and sleek motorcycles, but the screen chemistry between Mara and Craig isn’t nearly as plausible as that provided in the original; more importantly, it’s not as central to the story either, which may suggest the final two installments in this trilogy could move off on tangents which differ from their predecessors.
Fincher’s a superb director and gets solid performances from the other members of his international cast, most notably Stellan Skarsgard as Vanger’s apparently supportive nephew and Robin Wright as Blomkvist’s lover/professional colleague. But be warned: Tattoo’s complex trail of detection requires a careful eye and ear; there are a number of old photos and documents which point to “who was where when bad deeds were done” so it’s easy to become confused by the unfolding plot elements, which Fincher presents at a furious pace.
In the end, this Hollywood version of Sweden’s initial production is more orderly, elegantly filmed and professionally mounted - - but for sheer terror and suspense, rent the original which is more raw and deliberately sly - - then judge for yourself which one’s the best.
The Verdict? An often mesmerizing murder mystery, as handsome to watch as it is unsettling to experience - - and a worthy companion to the earlier incarnation.
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