Beginning with its strange and hypnotic opening credits, David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo excites and confounds, making it hard to turn away from in even its most repulsing moments. The American adaptation of a Swedish crime novel and film centers on recently maligned journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and his tortured research assistant-savant, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). The two form an intense bond while holed up on a wealthy Swedish family’s island, hired by one of their own to investigate a longstanding secret in the salacious family history.
It’s all very comfortable territory for Fincher as he turns would-be tedious scenes of Salander’s hacking into terse investigative sequences. And though this film is void of any severed heads, there are a few scenes startling enough to fit snugly in with his most graphic and visceral works. The film sprints through its mystery at the pace set by the keen minds of Blomkvist and Salander with little regard to any slower-sleuthing viewers. This is not a whodunit film for the viewer to out-analyze the on-screen characters, it’s one for a viewer to enjoy the breakneck pace of their hunt and the atmosphere of tension created by Fincher throughout. That atmosphere is aided in no small part by the disquieting soundtrack from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
Craig is fine as an in-over-his-head journalist but the film would’ve been better served by someone who could appear truly jolted and flustered by the danger surrounding him; some of Craig’s reactions still smacked of Bond-esque calm and collectedness. Mara, on the other hand, broods her character into life. She manages to teeter between a doe-eyed victim, laden with insecurities and a seemingly unstoppable heroine full of anger and vitriol. Salander romances the audience with her quiet candor but intrigues them by revealing the bare minimum of her own history. That character’s mysterious allure also leads the film to its greatest fault. Suffering from a problem common to the first film of a trilogy, Fincher and company manage to tell a story but it’s clear that the story is left for future installments. Though the Swedish family’s affairs have a tidy little bow on them, Salander’s story, the most interesting of the film, is incomplete. No matter how taut and entertaining of a film Fincher, et al created, the viewer is still left cold as a Swedish night until their next installment.