Stieg Larsson's novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was the first story in Larsson's Millennium trilogy. After Larsson's untimely death in 2004 at the age of 50, Tattoo was made into two movie adaptations, one Swedish and one American. Tonight, I watched the American version, directed by David Fincher ("Fight Club," "Se7en") and starring Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara (in a breakout performance), Stellan Skarsgård, and Christopher Plummer, among others. I noticed two faces from "Game of Thrones": Tony Way (Ser Dontos in GoT) and Donald Sumpter (Maester Luwin), as well as three other faces from different productions: Goran Višnjić (whom I remember from the later years of "ER"), Julian Sands (from any number of films and TV shows—the man's been everywhere), and Yorick van Wageningen (who played plump Jost in "The Way," with Martin Sheen).
The story is a murder mystery, a carefully crafted slow-burn thriller. Mikael Blomkvist (Craig), who co-owns and runs a magazine called Millennium, has lost a libel case against powerful magnate Hans-Erik Wennerström (Ulf Friberg). Humiliated and drained of his finances, Blomkvist receives the unusual offer to be paid twice his original salary if he helps another rich man, Henrik Vanger (Plummer), solve a four-decade-old murder involving Vanger's troubled grand-niece Harriet. Blomkvist consents, eventually recruiting the help of maladjusted "ward of the state" Lisbeth Salander (Mara), the eponymous girl with the dragon tattoo. Salander is a genius hacker with an eidetic memory; she moonlights as a detective while working various odd jobs. The suspense builds as Blomkvist and Salander plunge ever deeper into the eccentric and prickly Vanger family's dark secrets.
I think director Fincher did a fine job with pacing and atmospherics, and the actors all hit their marks. It was amusing to watch Daniel Craig clumsily scratching away at a mystery that would ultimately prove too convoluted and dangerous for him; James Bond would have known how to go about such an investigation with flinty competence. Mara, whom I don't know, but whose sister Kate I saw in the "The Martian" (reviewed here), somehow managed to imbue her weird and wild character with an alchemical brew of near-autistic levels of social gracelessness, forlornness, keen intellect, and a sort of slinky, skinny-girl sexiness despite her facial piercings and other poor stylistic choices.
I did, however, have two major complaints about the character of Lisbeth Salander and her relationship with Mikael Blomkvist—a relationship that rapidly turns sexual. First, Salander is shown being forced to perform oral sex on her state guardian (van Wageningen), who subsequently ties her up and brutally rapes her. These scenes were hard to watch; Fincher did great work at conveying the trauma of Salander's sexual violation. (Her revenge against her rapist is both terrible and satisfying.) But very soon after—implausibly soon, in my view—Salander tempts Blomkvist, whom she genuinely likes, into bed. Maybe I know nothing about female psychology, but I find it hard to believe a young woman just coming out of a brutal, nasty rape experience would be willing to turn around and jump in the sack with a man she knows only superficially.* Something is very wrong, here.
Second, at the end of the movie, with the mystery now solved and with Salander having told Blomkvist how much she enjoys working with him, she goes to a tailor and has a leather jacket made for Blomkvist. She then rides her motorcycle over to Blomkvist's residence, but before she can present her gift to him, she sees him walking outside his building with Erika Berger (Robin Wright), Blomkvist's co-owner, editor-in-chief, and lover (Berger is married—ahem). Saddened and angered, Salander tosses her gift in the garbage and drives off. This, too, struck me as implausible: Salander had actually run a hyper-detailed background check on Blomkvist before Blomkvist became involved with the cantankerous Vanger family; she knew his most intimate secrets, so how could she not have known about him and Erika? Did I miss something? This made no sense to me, and it came close to ruining the film.
To be clear, I like the character of Lisbeth Salander. She's a strung-out, female version of Matt Damon's Will Hunting from "Good Will Hunting"—a troubled-but-capable genius with a kind yet complicated heart, trying her best to stay sane and stay afloat. As characters go, she's fascinating, but with the two implausibilities mentioned above, I can like her only so much. The movie, meanwhile, was quite watchable; there were some truly suspenseful moments despite the long, long running time (158 minutes!). I only wish Lisbeth's character made more sense, and now I wonder whether Stieg Larsson made the same mistakes with her in his novels. I'd like to think that these flaws come from the screenwriters, not from Larsson.
*Come to think of it, this is, in fact, the same problem—again involving a character played by Daniel Craig—that occurred in "Skyfall," when Bond makes sweet love to Sévérine, who had spent years as a sexual plaything.