Actress Rooney Mara attends the world premiere of 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo' at Odeon Leicester Square on December 12, 2011 in London, England. (Getty Images)more pics » The Bottom Line:
Should you see it?
In an industry saturated with hulking prototype leading men, it is more than refreshing to find a hero who is not only a woman, but woman of depth and intelligence.
It's impossible not to compare David Fincher
's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
with the original Swedish film of 2009 directed by Niels Arden Oplev
and starring Noomi Rapace
as Lisbeth Salander. Fincher's version comes with a bigger budget and with a much more developed cinematic pedigree. However, what's most interesting are the performances of the lead anti-heroines. Both Lisbeth Salanders by Rapace and Rooney Mara
, are vivid yet distant portrayals of a woman who lives on the fringes of society and swears off love, but finds it anyway. Mara's Salander is the more romantic of the two. Rapace only gives subtle hints to her buried feelings and the Oplev film barely delves into Salander and Mikael Blomqvist's romance. Both films are based on the novel by Steig Larsson
and the theme of unfulfilled love is prominent in the book. Fincher explores this part of Salander much more than Oplev and this exploration helps give Salander an added layer of humanity. If Rapace set the bar with Salander's walk, talk, and dress, Mara has only exceeded it by allowing the audience to actually give a shit about her. Lisbeth is one of the most original and profound characters in recent film history. Any actress would rightly shave her head and pierce her nipples for a chance at the role. What sets Mara's exceptional performance apart is her willingness to not only embrace all of Salander's strengths, but to embrace her weaknesses as well.
David Fincher is one of the best directors working today. His decision to take on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
wasn't exactly a risky one, but it was a departure from his other projects. None of his other scripts had been made into a film before. The original Swedish film was immensely popular in the U.S. and abroad so Fincher was entering new territory so to speak. He tabbed Steven Zaillian
to write his script and set about remaking a modern classic. If Oplev's original film is the 60's Boston Celtics, playing it safe and fundamental, Fincher's film is the 80's Showtime Lakers: fastbreaking and aesthetically magnificent.
Fincher starts his film with another signature title credit sequence set to Karen O
and Trent Reznor
's haunting cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song." This sequence might be interpreted as the artistic representation of the soul of Lisbeth Salander: a dark, unstable sexual mass, bubbling beneath the surface. Salander's first appearance is on a motorcycle as she arrives at the corporate offices of a client. She is out of place to be certain, but that is exactly the point. Lisbeth has been out of place her entire life, forced to live in foster homes and made a ward of the government upon turning 18. She has a damaged past and has carved out a life for herself as a computer savant and researcher. What makes Salander so compelling is this incredible combination of vulnerability and genius. That, plus she looks so cool: a razor sharp hybrid of Yo-Landi Vi$$er
and Bob Geldof
in The Wall
Salander has been tasked with a background check on Mikael Blomqvist (Daniel Craig
), a disgraced magazine writer/editor who is facing a short prison sentence for a libel conviction. Salander's employer is Frode (Steven Berkoff
), the lawyer for Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer
), a retired industrial tycoon who wants Blomqvist to investigate the 40 year old murder of his niece. Blomqvist has six months before his sentence begins so he takes the job in isolated Hedestad, four hours outside of Stockholm. There is nothing sunny about Hedestad, and Fincher and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth
do not shy from the gloom of the environment or the family Blomqvist is about to get to know. The weather is perpetually freezing and the reception he receives is largely the same. Fincher's shots are rarely held for long. Each one is framed precisely, giving the film a steady pace that keeps even the expository moments invigorating. Fincher is the master of this. His interest in analysis made the courtroom scenes of The Social Network
and research scenes of Zodiac
as interesting as the action sequences. He lends the same expertise to Dragon Tattoo
. As Blomqvist literally sits on the floor reading, the camera follows his highlighter and we follow along.
While Blomqvist is meeting the Vangers, Lisbeth Salander is meeting her new guardian, Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen
). Bjurman blackmails Lisbeth, only willing to "help her if she helps him." The rape scene of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
is well-documented and Mara's performance is as brave as Rapace's. Fincher nods to the original by painting Lisbeth's face in the revenge scene. Where Mara differs from Rapace is in her outward emotion. Rapace plays Salander calm and collected, but Mara's performance is much more disturbed. She tells Bjurman "I am insane…" something I could not picture Rapace doing. Mara is also adept at capturing the ironic sense of humor of Salander. She delivers some zingers with deadpanned elegance, telling Bjurman "Hold still, I've never done this before.." as she tattoos him.
The film really takes off when Blomqvist and Salander join forces. Craig plays Blomqvist with a professional dignity that makes him very easy to root for. He doesn't judge Salander or make off-color jokes about her manner or style. It's believable when she seduces him, something that cannot be said about the first film. Craig and Mara have an easy chemistry that plays out on-screen. Rapace and Michael Nyqvist
(who plays Blomqvist in the Swedish film) never quite captured the essence of the relationship. Although I will say Craig's performance could have used a little more of Nyqvist's humility. There is no Bond in Mikael Blomqvist.
Oplev's film was hamstrung by an awkward screenplay that was very much in the same vein as Larsson's book. Fincher and Zaillian get to the heart of the story, eschewing the awkwardness of Larsson's narrative and focusing on the facts. Zaillian's script stays true to the ending of Larsson's novel, showing a tender side of Lisbeth that speaks volumes about how far she has come since the opening scenes. The story itself may have a few too many soft spots for some, but its protagonist is as memorable as any portrayed in recent cinema. Rooney Mara's Lisbeth Salander drives The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
. She is uniquely fascinating, a post-modern heroine unwed to any world.
See more photos from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo premiere: