"Tattoo" Colored by Mara’s Careful Artistry

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo -- Dir. David Fincher (Columbia Pictures) -- 3.5 Stars


Rooney Mara stars as protagonist Lisbeth Salander of the “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” David Fincher’s adaptation of the eponymous Steig Larsson novel.

When examining David Fincher’s past works such as “Fight Club” and “Se7en,” one could assert that the director has a penchant for darkness and distress. Fincher supports that assertion by directing what will surely be one of the most gruesome, sadistic, and disturbing movie of the year: the English-language adaptation of Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s novel “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”

Adapting a book into a film can be a tricky process. It can go horribly wrong, as with the cinematic adaptations of Dan Brown’s literary blockbusters “Angels & Demons” and “The Da Vinci Code,” or wonderfully right as with the Academy Award-winning “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is somewhere in a nebulous middle. While  in this case the movie turns out to be more captivating and artfully created than the book, “Dragon Tattoo” feels incomplete due to its disappointing ending and stilted acting on the part of Daniel Craig.

The movie begins with down-on-his-luck financial reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) being hired by the elderly retired CEO (Christopher Plummer) of the dying Vanger Company to investigate his grandniece Harriet Vanger’s disappearance, which happened 40 years prior at a family meeting. For his role, Craig replaced 007’s six-pack and charismatic charm with a beer belly and a dreary, depressed demeanor. However, while the role of the Scandanavian journalist may call for solemnity, Craig is devoid of charm or appeal. The sex scenes, which should reveal something of Blomkvist’s character, are awkwardly mechanical.

The other main protagonist is the brilliant yet strange computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) who assists Blomkvist with his murder investigation. Saying Salander is unsociable would be a bit of an understatement. Sporting multiple tattoos, piercings, bleached eyebrows, and short black hair, Mara is unrecognizable as the clean-cut BU student who breaks up with Mark Zuckerberg in the opening scene of Fincher’s “The Social Network.”

However, the physical changes she underwent to play Salander pale in comparison to her typological transformation. On paper, Salander is a seemingly implausible character to play: a tiny, wasted-away young woman who exacts revenge on anyone who does her harm, no matter his or her size or importance. However, Mara brings every aspect of Salander’s unique personality to life: her intelligence, fragility, and subtle humor. In one scene, when Blomkvist walks into their shared cabin to find Salander using his computer, he asks her how she was able to bypass his security system. Craig stammers, ”But it’s encrypted,” to Salander’s sardonic gaze and dry retort, “Please.”

Mara has been nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress as well as an Academy Award for her work in this movie, and for good reason. Mara fashions a Salander who is relatable despite the character’s obvious emotional problems and transforms herself into the guarded protagonist without making herself soulless. This is no easy task as Salander must have been a difficult character to transfer from the novel to the screen due to her steely exterior.

The film’s cinematography also serves it well. The bleak, freezing Swedish landscape helps to provide an atmosphere worthy of the plot, and the film’s music adds effectively to the gloomy mood. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross teamed up once again after working together on the award-winning soundtrack for “The Social Network,” and the movie has a similar ominous, pulsing soundtrack.

Fans of the novel will be pleased to know that until the ending, the movie is a faithful adaptation that does not stray too far from the book’s plot. In fact, the film fortunately omits some of the boring segments. The movie’s conclusion is different than that of the book, though not enough to greatly upset fans. Unfortunately , if screenwriter Steve Zaillian was looking to provide a memorable twist, he failed, as his alternative ending is not nearly creative enough to be merit the change.

With two sequels on the horizon, there is the possibility of improvement for a series with a lot of potential. If Mara and Fincher return, the sequels have a fighting chance. Otherwise, the film’s supporting cast would not create an enjoyable picture.

—Staff writer Aaron H. Aceves can be reached at