The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Starring Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig and Stellan Skarsgård
There’s been a lot of hype around the latest series of mass-market paperbacks to be brought to life. This particular adaptation has a far better pedigree. Written by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Steve Zaillian, directed by David Fincher (“The Social Network,” “Seven”), and starring everyone’s favorite chiseled brit, Daniel Craig, one would think, with this caliber of talent, we could expect something above average. For the most part, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is exactly that: above average—fine, well-constructed entertainment. Unfortunately, it’s little else.
Just a warning to those who haven’t read the books, seen the original Swedish adaptations or already seen this incarnation: Parts of my review reveal key plot spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it and plan to, stop reading now.
The story centers on a Swedish journalist named Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a recently disgraced writer who has been convicted of libel over the content of a magazine article. In the aftermath he struggles both personally and professionally. In the middle of the fallout, he is approached with a proposal from an old businessman named Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer). Forty years ago his niece disappeared, and he believes one of the members of his family was responsible. Vanger offers Mikael a large sum of money, and the promise of restoring his good name if he can investigate the case and find out who is responsible.
The basic set-up is effectively done. It’s murder mystery 101. A half dozen suspects exist in the Vanger family and are isolated on an island, all of them a little left of center, none of them too willing to cooperate. Mikael works under the premise that he is there to help with Henrik’s biography, allowing him unfettered access to the family history. Mikael’s investigation and the craziness of the family tree is the most entertaining part of the movie. However, the most interesting part is the aforementioned girl with the dragon tattoo: Lisbeth Salander (Roomey Mara).
She’s a different kind of character. Quiet, ghost white, covered in piercings and remarkably intelligent. Lisbeth works for a security firm and helps perform the kind of in-depth background checks that aren’t exactly legal. She’s half-Goth, half-hacker and has a lot of issues. The first hour of the film is a tennis match, going back and forth between Mikael’s investigation and delving into Lisbeth’s chaotic existence. Both stories are interesting, but they don’t seem to go together. For the first half of the film, it felt like I was watching two completely different movies. Eventually Mikael meets Lisbeth through the most suspect of circumstances, and the two of them team up to solve the case.
The case itself is remarkably uncomplicated—so much so that when veteran character actor Stellan Skarsgård (“Thor,” “Melancholia”) walked onscreen, I declared, “He did it!” Two hours later, that hunch proved correct.
The main problem I have with the film is the casting. Not because it is bad, but, like in the case of Stellan Skarsgård, it’s brutally obvious Daniel Craig is a great actor, but he’s better served playing men of action. He works well when he’s acting out a guy who runs at the guy firing a gun, not scurrying away like a frightened deer. Lisbeth is a fascinating character, and Rooney Mara does a great job of making her equal parts likable and sympathetic, which is not always an easy task. The film is at its most entertaining when Lisbeth and Mikael are onscreen, pouring over the details of the case or falling into romantic entanglements. Everything else around them doesn’t feel nearly as interesting.
I miss the mystery movie. There are so few of them these days. So I was disappointed that the core mystery behind “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was so easily solvable and so infinitely uninteresting. There are also many subplots that end up going nowhere or don’t amount to anything. There’s Lisbeth’s lecherous caseworker, Mikael’s ongoing trouble with his lawsuit and even a pinch of religious zealotry. None of it feels very cohesive. Even after solving the case, there are an additional 20 minutes of “Lord of the Rings”-inspired multiple endings. None of them are very important; most apparently exist to set up the inevitable sequels.
As I mentioned, I hadn’t read the books. There are moments in the film where I found myself wondering why certain things come to light and never get addressed again. Often times friends say, “Oh, they cover that in the book.” That always grinds my gears. Movies shouldn’t require “Cliff’s Notes.” When introducing it in the film, it needs to be resolved.
The most glaring faults of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” come from sins of convenience, such as shown in its uninspired casting. It’s an interesting core story even if not original. Convenient moments and discoveries push the story forward but never feel motivated. I wouldn’t mind seeing another crack at the Lisbeth character without so much padding.