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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

That Girl!

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The publicist at the screening of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo gave me a genial heads-up as I entered the theater: “You’re really gonna get an education tonight. There’s some really graphic stuff.” David Fincher’s new American film version of the late Stieg Larsson’s first novel in his Millennium trilogy didn’t prove to be particularly educational, although parts of it were certainly more “graphic” than the 2009 Swedish movie adaptation.

All of the more explicit scenes center on the title character, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), the suspicious, sullen-visaged Goth biker girl and electronic hacker extraordinaire. She’s the component of Larsson’s novels most responsible for their phenomenal international popularity, and she will probably account for the almost certain success of this movie. This is despite the changes that Fincher and scripter Steven Zaillian have wrought in the source material—both the earlier film and the book—that push Lisbeth into the background a little and place more emphasis on her partner in crime detection, Mikael Blomkvist, the crusading journalist whose murder investigation Lisbeth joins.

This was probably done because Blomkvist is portrayed by Daniel Craig. While Blomkvist was no secondary character before, the filmmakers must have felt that their star’s status and hoped-for box-office draw necessitated some augmenting of the role. Lisbeth is hors de combat for much of the movie’s first hour, but she comes charging back with a vengeance—literally, as it happens—in one of Tattoo’s subplots, a notorious one devised by Larsson.

Fincher and Zaillian have reordered and jiggered the story line and the characters in other ways, perhaps most importantly in what they’ve done to Lisbeth. Just as in the book and previous film, she and Blomkvist end up in bed together, but now their mutual intimacy is a little more than merely opportune, especially for her. This movie makes more of an effort to humanize Lisbeth, to make her more conventionally sympathetic. (Her lesbian interests are also diminished.)

The original Lisbeth was essentially a very clever pulp fiction creation, almost a cartoon or graphic novel icon with fierce feminist overtones, in keeping with her author’s political outlook. Now she’s been made a little more vulnerable. But this movie also ramps up the depictions of her brutal sexual victimization by a figure from Swedish officialdom, and her even more violent retribution, which is given a luridly savage, even sadistic cast.

This Tattoo also plays down the girl’s shocking back story and the clues about responsibility for it in the higher reaches of Swedish society. Fincher and Zaillian concentrate on the murder investigation and the relationship between the odd-couple sleuths.

A lesser director than Fincher might well have had trouble keeping the altered material working, but he finesses it and keeps his movie on course for the most part. This version moves more slowly than the Swedish version and it’s more embellished. Sometimes it lingers too long on the physical details of Blomkvist and Lisbeth’s detecting (too many close-ups of photos and computer-screen images for too little effect). But Fincher has provided ominous atmospherics, aided by the subdued, fine-textured photography of Jeff Cronenweth. The two stars mesh rather well, and the performances of Christopher Plummer and Stellan Skarsgård, as two members of the powerful family whose past and ghosts Blomkvist and Lisbeth are probing, are, respectively, ripely witty and appropriately chilling.

Fincher’s Tattoo ends on a more unsettled note than the first movie, which is fitting since it’s virtually unthinkable that it won’t earn its way to a sequel.

Watch the trailer for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

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