It is a strange occurrence going into a film with the complete faith that it will be executed nearly flawlessly. With trust in the director, and two actors that seem perfectly cast for the iconic characters they are to portray, the much anticipated first chapter in the Millennium series promised to be as good as everyone hoped.
When the director was announced, the cast picked, and the musical score in place, fans of the novel and really anyone familiar with the body of work of these people knew the story was in good hands. When the teaser trailer came out, complete with a powerful cover of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song by Karen O, there was little chance of a careless, lackluster, or disappointing movie.
And so The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not about the destination, but the journey—a dark, depraved, often uncomfortable, and occasionally endearing journey into the cold world of misogynistic men. Director David Fincher, with much on his resume to demonstrate an ability to create such atmospheres (Fight Club, Seven, The Social Network), maintains the tension and feel of insecurity from the opening scene and James Bond-esque intro music to the last snow-filled, lonely closing.
It is particularly faithful to the popular Millennium trilogy of novels from which the movie, now the second version, is spawned. The story is as much about ‘the girl’ as it is the man she meets, one of few, and possibly only two, men who truly care for her.
As the disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist, Daniel Craig is polite, at times awkward, and blessed with the skills of a talented investigative journalist—not a superhero or action star. His character is credible, and he endows him with a strong sense of realism. He runs, he does not fight, he complains about pain, and he is given to attractive and strong women. His professional embarrassment which affords him free time and solicitation from the wealthy and powerful Henrik Vanger, a libel case costing him all his money and reputation, is not dwelt on with over-emoting, but with quick and decisive action.
Rooney Mara is nearly flawless in her role as the brainy, anti-social, and troubled Lisbeth Salander. A female literary heroine of great discourse and analysis has created some incredibly tough black leather boots to fill, but Mara, with homeliness and detachment, not only looks, talks, and acts the part, but undertakes several remarkable scenes that it would seem few can do.
Those scenes of course have to do with violence and sex. Everyone who has read the book already knows of Salander’s ill-fated meeting with her grotesque, controlling guardian. Those who have not read it, however, surely have an idea as to what horrors await.
There is a brief moment when it appears the audience might be spared the sights and sounds of such depravity. This lapse is surely done with purpose, however, to make the audience similarly vulnerable as Salander. She enters the apartment expecting to be hurt at one particular level, but the torture she endures goes far beyond expectation. The audience too knows what is coming, and it certainly an enduring process that leaves you sickly and uncomfortable—so uncomfortable, in fact, that when she exacts her vengeance, there is relief, humour, and absolutely no remorse in the air.
Perhaps, however, Mara, in all the coldness and insanity she brings to the Salander—a character who plans and exacts torture on one man who hates women, though asks for permission to kill another—may be too sexy. She cannot help it, and she is the titular girl that commands attention from the public, but while her pale body helps to set her apart in society and contrasts sharply with her black outfit, it is also without blemishes, made up of milky white skin surrounded by a myriad tattoos.
Still, she is at times tough and witty, at others exposed and speechless. She is and will be the enduring image of a complex female character in popular culture.
It is a tough task putting to film a movie that deals so much with analyzing photographs, reading documents, and hacking into computers, but quick cuts, fitting music, and two excellent stars propel the lengthy movie along at a pace that seems just right. For a story based mostly around two people, there are plenty of ancillary characters that shape the story. Lisbeth has hacker acquaintances, a former guardian, and a boss, while Mikael has his coworkers and family. The Vangar family, all of whom are suspects in the murder case, is extensive and transcends several generations.
What’s more, Mikael and Lisbeth do not meet until halfway through the movie (yet as Blomkvist is quick to point out, the hacker genius that is Salander knows everything about him long before he even knows she exists). All of this is to say that Fincher is able to effectively introduce and identify many characters that may only make brief appearances, and as Blomkvist and Salander traverse Sweden for information, the viewer is never too far behind.
The film is almost entirely of author Stieg Larsson’s sentiment under Fincher’s layer of visual macabre. The written word is more character driven, naturally, and more graphic, but the movie represents well a book that in Swedish was titled, “The Men Who Hate Women.” Fincher is not offering commentary-he is translating perfect a written story to picture, and introducing Blomkvist and Salander, two figures who will long linger in cultural lore.