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‘Dragon Tattoo’ a daring adaptation

Novel trilogy's iconic character comes to life in well-made thriller

POSTED: December 15, 2011 1:00 a.m.
Merrick Morton/AP Photo/Sony, Columbia Pictures

Rooney Mara is shown in a scene from "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo."

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David Fincher's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is a force to be reckoned with, just like its central character, Lisbeth Salander.

The film is based on the first in Stieg Larsson's hugely successful trilogy of novels, all three of which have already been adapted into movies in Sweden. Those films performed incredibly well internationally, including here in the U.S.

Fincher's adaptation comes a mere two years after its Swedish predecessor, which has sparked both feverish anticipation and pre-emptive backlash.

The Swedish film trilogy vaulted Noomi Rapace to international stardom for her enigmatic, fearless performance as Lisbeth. It's an instance when the actor is virtually synonymous with the character, so thoroughly did Rapace inhabit Lisbeth. (How ironic that Rapace co-stars in this week's "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," which will compete against the "Dragon Tattoo" remake.)

When the American production was announced, the entire film geek globe speculated about who might fill Rapace's unfillable shoes. That unenviable task fell to Rooney Mara, whom we last saw in Fincher's "The Social Network."

Along with behind-the-scenes scuffles with critics and an advertising campaign that launched more than a year ago, all of this has made "Dragon Tattoo" one of the most highly anticipated movies of the year.

The story is built around a disillusioned journalist's investigation into a wealthy family's dark past. Mikael Blomkvist (played here by Daniel Craig) has just been sued for libel by powerful mogul Erik Wennerstrom. Aging industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) hires Blomkvist to investigate the murder of his niece some 40 years earlier.

Vanger will pay Blomkvist handsomely but will also give him incriminating evidence against Wennerstrom. The deeper Blomkvist delves into the mystery, the darker the family secrets become.

Blomkvist's investigation propels the story, but the film hinges on the Lisbeth Salander character. Larsson created a character seething with contradictions. She is antisocial and detached, yet absolutely loyal to the few people to whom she is close.

Because of her history of violence and hatred of authority, the Swedish welfare system has deemed her mentally incompetent and a ward of the state, yet she has a photographic memory and is probably the most gifted investigator in the country.

Lisbeth's and Blomkvist's stories eventually merge. Lisbeth assists Blomkvist and they form an unlikely bond. Together, they unravel hidden chapters of European history, hunt for a serial killer and peel back the layers of Libseth Salander.

It's impossible to equal the swagger of Rapace's performance, but Mara holds her own surprisingly well. She also gets much more support than her predecessor. The original "Dragon Tattoo" was great, but Rapace and her co-star, Mikael Nyqvist, carried the film. Neither the filmmaking nor the rest

of the cast gave them much of

a boost.

Mara and Craig, however, have the good fortune of Fincher's stunning imagery and pulsating pacing, as well as a great supporting cast that includes Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright and Steven Berkoff.

The movie boasts the coolest title sequence in years. It's an abstract montage of digitized bodies morphing into one another, melding wires and liquid carbon that seems alive, all set to Trent Reznor and Karen O's remake of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song." It's self-indulgent but dazzlingly cool.

The score, by Reznor and Atticus Ross, who shared an Oscar for their work on "The Social Network," is melodic, thumping and abrasive. It drives the movie and heightens the tension, especially during the long stretches when the movie becomes a procedural.

This adaptation sticks more closely to Stieg Larsson's novel than the Swedish film. Viewers need to be aware that this is a hard R-rated movie that deals with violence against women. It isn't quite as unflinching as the original, but certain scenes are still unsettling.

Fincher creates a somber yet posh world in which danger lurks behind the walls of the Vangers' exquisite homes. Maybe it's inevitable that this "Dragon Tattoo" doesn't equal the original, but it's still a riveting, sexy and smart thriller.

Jeff Marker teaches film and literature at Gainesville State College. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.



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