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Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The (2011)

Thriller Rated R

A thoroughly unnecessary effort from director David Fincher, not so much because there is already a Swedish adaptation of the best-selling novel (which I haven’t seen), but because this is a project that gives him so little to do. He’s been there (Seven), done that (Zodiac).

Both of those films are better than The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, based on the book by Stieg Larsson. Larsson’s convoluted, multi-layered narrative centers around investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), who has recently lost a libel suit and has taken on a private assignment while licking his wounds. That assignment – to solve the mysterious disappearance, some 40 years ago, of a teen girl – leads him to team up with Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a surly, tattooed and pierced young hacker with secrets of her own.

Larsson has whipped up something unique – Agatha Christie with techno Goths – which may account for the outrageous popularity of the book trilogy and ensuing Swedish films. Yet the American Tattoo is unremarkable; if anything, the mixing of elements feels clumsy.

Take, for instance, the extended opening act, in which Blomkvist and Salander’s stories proceed on parallel tracks. Fincher cuts back and forth between them, but we never quite get the sense that they’re heading in the same direction. Things feel even more off-kilter once the two do meet, especially when they engage in … well, I wouldn’t exactly call it a romance. I could buy these two as uneasy partners in an investigation. But as lovers?

To be honest, I could have done without Blomkvist altogether. (It doesn’t help that Craig never gets hold of the character; he’s bold and incisive one minute; doddering the next.) Salander is the heart of this story, especially considering the horror of her past ties into the horrors they’re investigating. But she’s oddly given the supporting part.

There are many odd choices in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, especially the extended postscript involving high-finance shenanigans. This decision, especially, seems to have been made out of fidelity to the book. With all due respect to Larsson’s novels, I don’t want David Fincher to feel the need to have fidelity to any book.