Mass Media

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 January, 2012, 12:00am

Starring: Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer, Joely Richardson
Director: David Fincher
Category: III

It's perhaps easy to be sceptical about David Fincher's take on the late Swedish writer Stieg Larsson's best-selling crime novel, given it's been just two years since Niels Arden Oplev delivered a Swedish-language adaptation that has since reaped both commercial and critical acclaim at home and abroad.

That the characters, who remain Swedish, speak English throughout the story would probably dismay purists, as would the way the film begins with an MTV-friendly opening-credits sequence and concludes with a final episode that plays out like a derring-do con trick in a border-hopping, jet-setting heist flick.

Guilty on all counts, yes, but to dismiss this new The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo as merely a cynical cashing in would be misguided.

Taken on its own merits, Fincher's film is a meaty suspense thriller about an odd couple's investigation of a string of unsolved serial murders from the grey and gloomy days of Sweden in the 1950s and 60s.

Indeed, it's territory that Fincher has trodden before with Se7en and Zodiac, but it's probably because of this that he has managed to reimagine Larsson's vision with power and poignancy, as he transforms what is essentially a procedural into a tale driven by a sense of general malaise in a society where communication has broken down.

'Does anybody speak to anybody on this island?' asks the journalist Michael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), as he hears his new employer, the tycoon Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), give him a rundown about the estranged members of the Vanger clan ('The most detestable collection of people you'll ever meet,' says the patriarch) to prepare him for the task of unearthing the truth behind the disappearance of the teenage Harriet Vanger 40 years earlier.

The mapping of the relationships, as Blomkvist discovers, is to be done through who's still talking to whom.

Meanwhile, later in the film, Henrik's nephew Martin (Stellan Skarsgard), reflects on how, among people, 'the fear of offending is bigger than the fear of pain'.

While it examines ciphers in a sense that murder mysteries do - a string of scribbled numbers in Harriet's bible, or similar drawings Henrik receives every year, with no notes attached - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is also about the adherence and transgression of codes of a moral nature, as the intrigue unfolds to reveal how the respectable veneer of a 'new' Sweden obscures dark social undercurrents of the past, as symbolised by the Nazism and misogyny that runs within the Vanger family.

Fincher's film brings all this to the forefront, but such suppression is made vividly known primarily through the characters - and of course, the most important being Lisbeth Salander, the film's titular character.

Rooney Mara (above) delivers a remarkably layered performance as the dragon tattoo girl, a silent and suppressed/oppressed social misfit who's at once shaped by circumstances and also shaping them in her desire to battle injustice, as in the case of her suffering at the hands of a manipulative lawyer and her revenge against him.

She's also the brainy and brawny half of the professional partnership with the fumbling Blomkvist, with whom she develops a personal relationship devoid of sentimentality.

It's a triumphant performance that drives the film, with Salander's psychological nuances bringing into focus a world gone and still going wrong.

Her candid way of speaking about and, engaging with the misdemeanour around her, pointing the way to decipher the cryptic language being deployed to conceal injustice.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo opens today