THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO has Daniel Craig, midway through his tenure as James Bond, taking a break to play another investigator under threat, this time not a lethal and cocky secret agent, but a humbled and harried journalist trying to unravel the case of a long-missing girl. The filthy rich people that hire him, however, are as cold as 007s prey, and the ingenious but quite disturbed young woman of the title then partners with him to reveal their layers of corruption and depravity.
Stockholm journalist ‘Mikael Blomkvist’ (Craig) is blasted in legal and professional fallout by a libel suit from a corrupt and powerful businessman. Brilliant, defiantly anti-social hacker ‘Lisbeth Salander’ (Rooney Mara, 26), does background snooping on Blomkvist for the wealthy ‘Henrik Vanger’ (Christopher Plummer), who offers Blomkvist evidence against the businessman. In return, Vanger wants closure on the 40-year-old disappearance and apparent murder of his grandniece. Taking the bait, Blomkvist moves into a cottage on the Vanger family estate. As he deals with the FUBAR family, he gets the assistance—full-bodied as it were—of the razor keen, testy, strangely seductive Salander, and their search for clues gets into ever deeper and darker territory.
With a screenplay by Steven Zaillian, director David Fincher brings his kinetic, intensely visual style to tackling the first installment of Stieg Larsson’s trilogy of ‘Lisbeth Salander’ bestsellers, with this $90,000,000 2011 treatment that followed the Swedish version released in 2009. It scored big, winning an Oscar for Film Editing as well as nominations for Best Actress (Mara), Cinematography, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. *
From the liquid coax of the title sequence created by Tim Miller, through the twists, turns and herrings (bloody red ones) of the serpentine plot, past a gallery of compelling, if mostly icy and/or vile characters, the intrepid duo work their case, and work out a few personal issues as well. Safety is fleeting. Craig’s rock solid and the supporting cast is blessed with two top-notch pieces of menace from Stellan Skarsgård as the ersatz helpful ‘Martin Vanger’, and Yorick van Wageningen as ‘Nils Bjurman’, whose brutal treatment of Lisbeth earns him some memorably justified payback. **
Crucially, the role of the hurting and hurtful heroine is put over with remarkable command by Rooney Mara, in a bravura realization laced with fierce intelligence, brazen audacity, submerged anguish, base practicality and raw sexual candor. Her look was nailed by Lynn Hirschberg, writing for “W” magazine, calling Mara’s Lisbeth a “mash-up of brazen Seventies punk and spooky Eighties goth with a dash of S&M temptress”. Scary, creepy and sexy, which isn’t a bad thing to have on your side when investigating a serial killer. Or when going shopping for that matter, if we may be forgiven a digressive pant. This is not your uptight Aunt Ethel’s idea of a lady research assistant. If it is, I want to meet your aunt.
As he managed with his stunning Zodiac, Fincher creates an aura of horror more by describing fiendish actions than actually showing them: the doings the heroes must unearth here are best left to the imagination.
The 25th most-attended film of 2011, it grossed $232,600,000, then took another $22,195,000 worth of disc sales. With Joely Richardson, Robin Wright, Steven Berkoff, Julian Sands, uncoiling over 158 unsettling, enthralling minutes.
* The very successful Swedish version was part of a triptych release over the course of 2009, which included the sequels The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest, a trio totaling 429 minutes. The first book in Larsson’s set was a daunting 672 pages, astutely whittled down by Zaillian and Fincher to a lean and manageable two hours and thirty-eight minutes, best watched alone, in the dark, on a cold and gloomy night. Larsson died young at 50, in 2004: published posthumously, his trilogy have sold more than 80,000,000 copies. David Lagercrantz continued the story of Lisbeth Salander in three more novels. The American-made The Girl In The Spider’s Web, from one of those books, came out in 2018, with Claire Foy as Selander. It didn’t fare nearly as well.
Yorick van Wageningen, 47, a gift to his craft from Holland: “This character goes through a lot and I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to go through all that. I started out half way between the elation of getting to work with David Fincher and the dread of this character, but I was able to use both of those things. We both thought the most interesting route would be for Bjurman to seem half affable. The challenge was not in finding the freak violence in the guy but finding the humanity of him.”