Film Reviews

It's Feminist Revenge in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a svelte remake of the 2009 Swedish blockbuster, a movie that opens with a bit of Led Zeppelin grandiosity (covered by Karen O) and a credit sequence of scary satanic rubber-fetish ickiness.

Set in a freeze-your-blood land of streamlined chrome, steely dawns, and gleaming black-and-silver nocturnes, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo follows a cold trail of ritually butchered women through rural Sweden. These previously unlinked crimes have been discovered as part of an investigation conducted by lefty reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig). This grim do-gooder's career was earlier upended by the billionaire corporate crook whom his reporting failed to bring down, and he's been hired on the rebound by another Swedish oligarch, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer channeling Max von Sydow), to solve a murder.

This killing was committed some 45 years ago apparently by one Vanger family member against another. Alternately dashed and dashing, Blomkvist is a standard-issue wounded crusader but, as millions of earthlings know, the movie's real protagonist is his ace research assistant, Lisbeth Salander. The eponymous asocial goth-punk-pierced-lesbo hacker supreme, she's played here by neophyte Rooney Mara, best known until now as the Boston University coed who called Mark Zuckerberg an asshole five minutes into The Social Network. It's her pale flame that illuminates the movie.

The film is based on Stieg Larsson's rambling thriller of the same name, which was posthumously published and became an international bestseller and Kindle record-holder. Steven Zaillian's script pushes Larsson's narrative, originally set at the close of the 20th Century, toward the present moment. It's a bit late in the day to take seriously the guilty secret of Sweden's Nazi sympathizers, but even amateur torture theater is a perennial movie kick. The novel (originally and pointedly titled Men Who Hate Women by its Trotskyist author) is basically a tale about brutalized females and a fantasy of feminist retaliation, exemplified when Salander handily dispatches a mugger or, after being grossly abused by her sadistic legal guardian, coolly stages a counter rape of absolute vengeance and then goes out clubbing.

The book became a smash-hit Swedish film, but this new version isn't a shot-by-shot, or even scene-by-scene, recap of the dowdier 2009 production. The remake is an altogether leaner, meaner, more high-powered, stylish, and deftly directed affair though similarly hampered by a too-long narrative fuse. Mara's elfin Salander is the dour spirit of merriment in this clammy universe. Once her cockscomb Mohawk gives way to a less off-putting coif, she seems more playful, her outfit taking on the feel of a store-bought Halloween costume.

Running 158 minutes, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo requires well more than an hour for Blomkvist's story to converge with Salander's and, although things do pick up once reporter and hacker begin pursuing parallel research tracks (as well as each other), it grossly overstays its welcome. Dragon Tattoo persists in pursuing three separate endings and, by the time they wrap, the movie is less a walk on the wild side than an evening stroll through a well-lit topiary garden.

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J. Hoberman
Contact: J. Hoberman