Still buzzing from Oscar victors The Social Network and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, director David Fincher is back. And yes, he’s done it again. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the highly anticipated adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s best selling novel, takes viewers on a 158-minute nail biter of unrelenting dramatic suspense. Also, it’s just plain good.
Filmed on location in Sweden, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo follows controversial journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) as he investigates a long-past disappearance of a teenage girl. Set to task by the girl’s uncle, wealthy tycoon Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), Blomkvist poses as a biographer and uncovers the secrets of a very affluent and dysfunctional Swedish family. Though trying to do honest work, fear is always lurking in the corners of Blomkvist’s lodgings at Vanger’s property. A freezing cold winter, suspicious break-ins and many people telling him to head back to Stockholm foreshadow the eerie possibility of a murderer in his midst.
Blomkvist is initially chosen by Vanger after an invasive background check, conducted by the unemotional and borderline-vandal freelance investigator Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). The term “biker chick” has nothing on Salander. She is hot, she is cool, she is bad and she is good at her job. Facing struggles of her own, her story diverges from Blomkvists after she clears him for Vanger. A ward of the state, Salander is no stranger to violent outbursts, neglect and hard times. During a horridly vivid sequence of unfortunate events, she rises to the top and overcomes even her most heinous of adversaries. Salander is a survivor and Mara portrays her with excellence, strange beauty and a twinge of self-deprecation.
Their paths cross when Blomkvist requests a research assistant. Vanger brings in Salander and the rest is quite actually, history. They embark on a whodunit of large proportions to uncover the past and expose the truth about the Vanger disappearance. Fincher’s greatest victory in this film is storytelling. Set off with dreary wide shots and a booming techno rock soundtrack (courtesy of The Social Network’s Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross), a variety of emotional attachments and scary brushes with death keep the momentum of the film going to the last minute.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has everything that the modern film viewer wants: drama, intrigue, crime, sex and above all — great acting. Craig is seen, for perhaps, the first time, despite playing James Bond, as a true star. His realistic portrayal of Blomkvist is natural, believable and generally entertaining. Supporting actors Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard and Robin Wright offer a balance of reliability and suspect. The true star, as evidenced her by recent Golden Globe nod, is Mara, who shows that she has the chops to be the next leading lady of dramatic cinema.