© 2011 Ray Wong
Based on the bestselling series by Swedish novelist Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is also an English-language remake of the popular Swedish movies.
Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is a journalist who has recently been disgraced in a libel case in which his unreliable source ruins his credibility, causes him his job, and wipes out his bank account. While down in the dumps, he's recruited by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), the patriarch of a rich, famous family-owned company, to write his memoir. In reality, Vanger wants Mikael to investigate a 40-year-old murder mystery: his beloved niece, Harriet, disappeared in 1966, and Henrik believes she was murdered by one of his family members.
While Mikael interviews the family and investigates the evidences collected throughout the years, he discovers bits and pieces of the family's dark secrets. For example, their ties to the Nazi party, or how some members such as Anita Vanger (Joely Richardson) have not been in touch with the family for decades. The head of the company, Martin Vanger (Stellan Skarsgard) indulges his uncle Henrik but he doesn't believe Mikael will find anything, for they have trie to solve Harriet's murder for over forty years.
Mikael decides to hire Lisabeth (Rooney Mara) to be his assistant because of her unparalleled skills in discovering details and knack for hacking computers. However, Lisabeth is an antisocial outcast who has had a hard life. They have to build mutual trust if they want to work together to solve the mystery, when their involvement increasingly puts them in danger.
Daniel Craig (Cowboys and Aliens) sheds his tough guy image to play a bookish, sensitive journalist in this adaptation. His performance is understated and impressive, conveying resourcefulness and courage as well as vulnerability and confusion. Rooney Mara (The Social Network) totally reinvents herself in the title role. Her fearless performance is transformational and outstanding. A rising star to watch.
The large supporting cast includes the incomparable Christopher Plummer (Beginners), who plays the gentle patriarch of the Vanger family with grace and style. Stellan Skarsgard (Thor) is also excellent as Martin Vanger. Joely Richardson (Anonymous) is appropriately gaunt and sullen as Henrik's estranged niece Anita. Robin Wright (Moneyball) is at ease playing Mikael's editor and lover.
Adapted from Larsson's novel by Steven Zaillian (Moneyball), the screenplay is split between two parallel narratives that eventually merge: Mikael's arc and Lisabeth's ordeal. While the structure and the amount of information and number of characters can be confusing at first, Zaillian is successful in keeping everything straight and streamlined, and the two narratives advance smoothly with a great pace. There's always conflict, and the plot moves along with good tension -- there's hardly a dull and boring moment. Part of the fun for the audience is to put the clues together with Mikael. But the screenplay also succeeds in giving us strong characters and their backgrounds that may have nothing to do with the plot but make the story more resonant.
Director Fincher (The Social Network) is no stranger to thrillers that deal with killers or violent crimes. This movie is up his alley, and he gives us a taut mystery and drama that doesn't shy away from harsh materials such as rape and torture. In fact, some scenes are so brutal that it can be difficult to watch, but I applaud him, the filmmakers and the actors for being true to the story and characters. The film also has a strong European look and feel, appropriately, even though it's an American production.
Not having seen the Swedish original or read the novel, I'm impressed with the storytelling and performances. It's one of the best thrillers in recent years.
Stars: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright, Joely Richardson, Goran Visnjic
Director: David Fincher
Writers: Steven Zaillian (based on novel by Stieg Larsson)
MPAA Rating: R for brutal violence including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity and language
Running Time: 158 minutes
Script - 8
Performance - 8
Direction - 8
Cinematography - 8
Music/Sound - 7
Editing - 8
Production - 9
Total - 8.1 out of 10.0