Film adaptations of best-selling novels are always a tricky feat to pull off successfully. Even more so are ones that were already adapted to film before and were acclaimed takes on the original works at that. When one thinks of the recent Swedish “Millennium” film trilogy based on the novels by Stieg Larsson, it could easily be assumed that those film takes on Larsson’s words were more than well and good enough—especially when it was led by the fantastic Noomi Rapace. But with acclaimed director David Fincher (Seven, Zodiac, The Social Network) at the helm, the “Americanized” take on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is nonetheless a dark, engaging whodunit thriller with an all-in, star-making turn by Rooney Mara.
Fincher’s Girl, written and adapted by Steven Zaillian, carries over the main plot of Larsson’s labyrinth story: a disgraced investigative journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (played by Daniel Craig), is hired by an elderly millionaire, Henrik Vanger (played by Christopher Plummer), to uncover the truth about the 40-year-long disappearance of his beloved niece Harriet. Through flashbacks, we see the day Harriet suddenly disappeared from the family’s island home and neither her body nor any trace of her whereabouts were ever found since that day. Suspicion for what happen to Harriet rests squarely on the other members of the Vanger family (some more questionable and morally reprehensible than others).
Eventually, Blomkvist seeks out the assistance of Lisbeth Salander (played by Mara)—a petite, isolated, emotionally restrained and yet tough “Goth” girl (piercings, tattoos and all) who happens to be an excellent computer hacker. With Lisbeth’s unmatchable talents, Blomkvist gets closer and closer to the truth of what happened to Harriet all those years ago.
The fascination over the Larsson trilogy lies in the Lisbeth character. She’s a “different” kind of character that one would never expect to be involved in an investigative, murder mystery type setting (unless, of course, they were somehow the perpetrator). In the Swedish film adaptation, Rapace brought everything that was needed for such a challenging role. She was Lisbeth in every way—she had not only her look down pat but her dark, secluded and very tortured persona. Mara clearly had her work cut out for her to follow in Rapace’s footsteps and, here, she is clearly game for the task at hand. Mara presents an equally fascinating, lonely, mysterious and wounded Lisbeth in this take on Girl. Most notably, Mara took on the same dark depths with Lisbeth’s character in the horrifying, hard-to-watch subplot involving her vile and abusive state-appointed guardian (played by Yorick van Wageningen).
One can’t “undo” reading Larsson’s books nor having seen the recent and highly acclaimed Swedish film trilogy, but Fincher nonetheless brings a worthy “Americanized” take on the popular Larsson story. Having directed other dark films like Seven, Fight Club and Zodiac, if anyone could take on Girl it would be him. Craig is also good here as Blomkvist and there are some good supporting work by Plummer, Robin Wright, Joely Richardson and Stellan Skarsgard. But at the end of the day, this is Mara’s vehicle to either make or break herself and she presents to us a fearsome and powerful Lisbeth Salander. If Girl is a sign of things to come from her, then she is on the right track. Physically she took on the role (she really got those piercings, smoked and learned to ride a motorcycle), but she also delved into the required, haunting gravities of the Lisbeth character with everything she’s got.
Overall, Fincher’s Girl proves to be a very worthy take on the popular Larsson story and if he’s at the helm of the two stories that follow (The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest), then those two will no doubt be just as fascinating to watch. Mara just better be sure she clears her calendar because she, like Rapace before her, proved to be a convincingly mesmerizing Lisbeth Salander and now she has to follow the character through all the way to the end.
4 ½ out of 5 stars