After becoming a bestseller in multiple languages and spawning a trio of successful Swedish films, it didn’t take long for Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to attract the interest of Hollywood executives. With famed auteur David Fincher at the helm, there has been plenty of hype and speculation surrounding the project, but all of that can now be laid to rest as the film is unleashed upon the moviegoing public.
Disgraced journalist Mikail Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) has taken up residence on the remote island of Hedestad, under the guise of writing a memoir for wealthy industry magnate Henrik Vanger. But in reality, Blomkvist is has been tasked with investigating the members of the Vanger family in an attempt to discover which of them murdered Henrik’s niece, Harriet, more than 40 years ago. Herr Vanger describes his family as “the most detestable people you will ever meet,” and the audience quickly learns that his claim has not been exaggerated.
With the Vanger family unwilling to assist, Blomkvist recruits the help of freelance researcher Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a socially awkward young woman with a history of violent outbursts. The investigation begins to bear fruit, thanks to Salander’s unconventional methods of discovery and Blomkvist’s journalistic instincts, and soon the duo finds themselves facing a much larger conspiracy that neither of them could ever have expected.
Rooney Mara gives a brilliant breakout performance as Salander, completely disappearing into the role of the damaged girl with the shadowy past. She stalks from scene to scene, constantly pulling the audience along from one emotional extreme to the next. Every word, every gesture, and every facial expression is perfectly calculated, and the character that Mara effortlessly creates feels every bit as alive as the person sitting next to you in the theater.
Daniel Craig also turns in some excellent work here, portraying Blomkvist as a world-weary hero doggedly pursuing his goal, rarely appearing onscreen without looking haggard and exhausted. If you’re expecting the suave, sophisticated persona that Craig adopts in his role as James Bond, then you’ve come to the wrong film.
Steven Zaillian’s screenplay wisely removes most of the extraneous material from the novel, excising nearly everything that doesn’t serve the central narrative or give the audience necessary insight into the characters, and pays respect to the source material while simultaneously forging an identity of its own. The plot is in a constant state of forward motion, which results in a film whose pacing defies its 160-minute running time, with a conclusion that is more clever than the novel and more satisfying than the original film.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a cold, disturbing thriller featuring a stellar supporting cast, a haunting score, and one of the best cinematic performances of the year. Fincher’s expert direction ensures that not a single moment of screen time is wasted, and when the final shot fades out, you’ll be left wanting ever more of Lisbeth Salander and Mikail Blomkvist. Hopefully that happens sooner, as opposed to later.
FINAL SCORE: 9.5/10