Not having read Stieg Larsson’s wildly popular Millennium novels, I’m not in a position to say whether they’re as shallow, exploitative and tediously overplotted as their film adaptations suggest. Now that I’ve seen what a director as gifted as David Fincher has done with the material, though, I’m convinced that not even Orson Welles returned from the grave could make it sing onscreen. The English-language, Swedish-accented Hollywood version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a good deal livelier than last year’s foreign import, but it’s still an ungainly amalgam of rape-revenge fantasy and quaint murder mystery, with a fashionable cipher at its center.
That would be the title character, Lisbeth Salander, embodied here in all her pierced goth-punk glory by Rooney Mara (who played Mark Zuckerberg’s girlfriend in the opening scene of The Social Network). Initially employed by a security firm to do a highly illegal background check on disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), she winds up assisting Mikael in his quest—at the behest of a retired industrialist (Christopher Plummer)—to solve a murder that took place on a remote island four decades earlier. It soon becomes clear that they’re actually looking for a depraved serial killer—which proves extremely cathartic for Lisbeth, who spends much of the movie’s first hour being sexually blackmailed and then brutally raped by her legal guardian. Perhaps Mikael will turn out to be the one man in Sweden she can trust ...
Technophile that he is, Fincher gets considerably more exercised about the investigative aspects than did Niels Arden Oplev in the Swedish version, constructing multiple quick-cut montages of Lisbeth and Mikael at work on their MacBooks. But no amount of formal prowess can salvage the overwrought spectacle of Lisbeth’s revenge on her tormentor, or make less preposterous the moldy cliché of the killer who wastes valuable time chatting up his would-be victim. And if the duo’s unlikely romance has any emotional weight in Larsson’s novel, it never seems to translate—Mara does her best, but Lisbeth’s sudden decision to jump Mikael’s bones seems borne more from a need to keep warm in the godforsaken cottage they share than from any credible passion she might have reason to feel for him. Everything about them is skin deep.