I totally understand the backlash engendered by all these “Americanized” versions of foreign books and movies. I know Tomas Alfredson’s Swedish version of Let The Right One In was certainly more affective and atmospheric than Matt Reeves’ American remake. I know a perfectly good Swedish adaptation of Steig Larson’s bestseller, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, came out only two years ago, and I agree Americans should get over their juvenile fear of reading subtitles or watching movies without recognizable Hollywood stars. But that doesn’t mean one should disregard David Fincher’s expertly made and wholly compelling Dragon Tattoo reincarnation out of narrow minded principle. Even if it is a Hollywood version, it’s still breathtaking in its directorial bravado, pacing, and lead performance.
In that performance, Rooney Mara (The Social Network) nails the tricky role of gothic Swede Lisbeth Salander, the computer hacking virtuoso, investigative prodigy, and beating heart of Larson’s book and Fincher’s film. At the same time taciturn and crying out, Salander is in her very appearance a statement on modern youth’s ironic desire for self-alienation: she has bleached eyebrows to accentuate the numerous piercings jutting masochistically through her face; she’s pale as a ghost cause her diet consists of McDonald’s fries and cigarettes; she enjoys the pain of the needle, so her body’s littered with tattoos, including the eponymous one strewn on her upper back; and she adorns an androgynous get-up of black leather and baggy pants over massive army boots. Her face is perpetually sullen and conveys an attitude that screams don’t-fuck-with-me.
Of course, Lisbeth is not only scary looking; she’s scary smart. Like the Medea of cyber retribution, she can get at someone’s bank accounts, police records, or personal information as easily as a normal web browser checks their e-mail. (Hell hath no fury like Lisbeth on her Mac Book!) An orphan and ward of the state, with a long history of sexual and mental abuse, Lisbeth, early in the film, makes an example out of a portly caseworker that should have kept his hands to himself. “What they say about me is correct. I am psychotic,” she says, gleaning over him with a demon’s eyes smeared with mascara. At least, that’s what she wants people to believe. It protects her—like the helmet she throws over her messy spiked hairdo when she rides off on her motorcycle like a bat out of hell—and keeps anyone from getting too close.
The dramatic thrust of the film, however, involves Lisbeth partnering up with an investigative reporter named Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), who finds himself on a remote Swedish island, hired to solve the 40-year-old mystery of an aristocratic family’s missing member, a young girl named Harriet. At 155 minutes, editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall pace the film magnificently; it never gets dull for a moment. Much of the runtime crosscuts between Blomkvist’s methodical investigation, while hauled up in a guesthouse in the wintry Swedish countryside, and Lisbeth’s troubled life back in Stockholm. Soon the two team up. Since she was the one who did the initial background check on Blomkvist for his employers, he recruits her once his deduction finds a possible link between Harriet’s disappearance and a long uncaught, religiously driven serial killer of women. It fans her vengeful flames, so Lisbeth hops on board.
As with his last serial killer endeavor, Zodiac (a lower-profile film that I believe may turn out to be his masterpiece), Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo is hyper meticulous. It zeroes in on the finest details and oddest particulars of an investigation marked by old school obsessive intensity and 21st century technological know-how. Fincher takes Larson’s formulaic mystery and gives it the energy, focus and style of cinematic web browsing. From photographs, news clippings, police reports, and online databases, Blomkvist and Lisbeth are able to fit the pieces together and make discoveries that no one could make in 40 years. On a desolate and ghostly island teeming with red harings, the two know that the killer is in their midst; he’s both a mouse click away and rapping ominously at the door.In its cinema-on-Ritalin kind of way, the film suggests that today’s hackers who will be tomorrow’s problem solvers. And precisely because Lisbeth is an outcast—more comfortable in front of her computer than with people—she can thrive in a world with a growing disharmony between tech-kids and the rest of humanity. She’s ahead of the societal curve. In a thematic link to Fincher’s last piece, The Social Network, Dragon Tattoo is about a world that’s more connected than ever before, but, ironically, haunted by the impersonal chill that ersatz connection has left in its wake. The movie’s last and most poignant implication is that perhaps Lisbeth Salander was looking for a way to connect person-to-person all along. Maybe her appearance was a façade covering her emotional battle wounds. Fincher once said that he was interested in “movies that scar”. His latest great film takes us to the edge of healing those scars, before trashing the sentiment and riding off alone—like a Fordian hero—into the snowy Scandinavian night.