Audiences who meet Lisbeth and Mikael, the damaged heroes of director David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” will wonder why Larsson’s saga took up so much oxygen in the first place.
The American version of the popular European film, drawn from the trilogy of best sellers by Stieg Larssons, is a solidly constructed thriller with enough sex, danger and escapism to keep audiences engaged. But Fincher’s film is nothing if not perfunctory, and it doesn’t help that the director falls back on the same drab color palette he used to better effect in last year’s hit “The Social Network.”
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Daniel Craig stars as Mikael, a disgraced journalist who lucks into a sweet gig after losing his shirt in a libel suit. An avuncular old man named Henrik (Christopher Plummer) hires Mikael to solve the decades-old case of a teen girl’s mysterious death. The girl happens to have been Henrik’s niece, part of an extended family with more skeletons in its closet than that “Poltergeist” graveyard scene.
It seems an impossible case to crack, but Mikael needs to prove himself in the wake of the libel suit, and he’s eventually joined by a super-researcher named Lisbeth (Mara Rooney) who can dig up facts no one else can.
Will the duo unearth enough family secrets to help them solve the murder, or will the forces which brought the poor teen down in the first place rise up to smite these too-curious snoops?
It takes a good, long while before “Tattoo” emerges as anything but a nattily detailed time waster. The film’s first hour can be tedious, what with Mikael poring over old photographs and Lisbeth shocking everyone she meets with her piercings and unconventional hair choices.
Where’s the sense of danger, or even a tangible reason to root on these off-putting heroes? The screenplay downloads plenty of information into the audience’s mainframe, and that doesn’t spark an already pokey narrative. You get the sense not even Henrik is losing sleep over the long buried case.
Fincher’s film slowly finds a sense of purpose, and from there it’s a slick and satisfying trip to the film’s bloated finale.
“Dragon Tattoo” might be the oddest star vehicle for any young actress, but Rooney owns it all the same. She’s wafer thin and talks in an almost embarrassed cadence, the kind that all but shouts, “Please, don’t pay me any mind.” But it’s hard not to drink in her performance, especially when she starts asserting herself against the men in her life out to do her harm.
Craig, still looking for a signature role outside the Bond franchise, inches closer to one here as the driven reporter out to clear his name. His natural ruggedness makes Mikael hard to admire, and that works well within Fincher’s drained canvas.
Rooney and Craig still have a devil of a time sussing out tension from the narrative’s necessities, like staring at old photographs for what feels like ages to glean the next clue. Fincher reteams with his “Social Network” composer Trent Reznor, but they can’t match the singular intensity of their last collaboration.
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” isn’t Oscar worthy, nor is it the best thriller you’ll see this year. It’s a quiet tale told with smarts and gumption, but it’s hard to imagine it once caused shock waves throughout popular culture.