It soon becomes clear as you watch the new American adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that director David Fincher is the perfect person to direct Stieg Larsson's runaway international best seller. This story, involving a twisted serial killer with fragments of the Bible on his mind, is a terrain that Fincher has memorably explored in perhaps his best known film, Se7en. Further, as the title character, he has cast Rooney Mara, an actress that last year played the role of the girlfriend of computer hacker and creator of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. It is now Ms. Mara who assumes the role of über computer geek Lisbeth Salander, an unusual girl who assists journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) to piece together the events that connect a wealthy Swedish family to a series of unspeakable crimes.
But the similarities between Salander and Zukerberg's main squeeze end the moment we first see Ms. Mara on screen in this film. With her pale face covered with piercings, her jet black hair in a mohawk, (which she later lets hang down in a downtown version of Louise Brooks), and her lithe body covered in ink she is the very essence of 1970s punk rebellion, and the total antithesis of last year's perky Ivy League coed. In fact, Ms. Mara creates an iconic figure in this film. An unforgettable portrait of a no-nonsense drifter who can hack into computers as well as get decent results when she uses a tattoo gun for the first time. A rape victim, she now callously calls the shots in bed: she can pick up a luscious brunette at a lesbian club one night, as well as make all the right moves that get her in bed with Blomkvist. Tough as nails (or as the metal that pierce her alabaster skin), she is the very essence of femme fatale and hardboiled detective wrapped up in one cool biker chic. But Ms. Mara makes sure that we also see her other side. In one of the closing moments of the film we discover that she is as sentimental as they come, and that her heart is quite vulnerable.
Although very much a film that centers around Ms. Mara and Mr. Craig, there are also fine supporting performances from Christopher Plummer and Stellan Skarsgård as patriarchal members of a family with a dark past.
The script by Steven Zaillian is quite faithful to the English translation of this Swedish novel, whose original title Män som hatar kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women) takes the focus away from the Salander character and places the novel squarely in the realm of pulp noir where it belongs.