David Fincher's English-language version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," which follows the Swedish release, may be a bit familiar, but it's still well worth seeing, says Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald, especially for Rooney Mara's stellar performance.

Share story

Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) enters David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” on her motorcycle: a mysterious creature, zooming darkly forward in the night like Batman. It’s a great entrance, for one of literature and cinema’s most fascinating recent creations, and Mara plays her like a wounded creature who’s encased herself in armor. Salander, a pale, punked-out young woman who’s a brilliant computer hacker, has no use for other people — watch how, when Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) commandeers the mouse as they’re gazing at a laptop screen, she silently closes her eyes in exasperation. She doesn’t need him, or anyone — she’s alone, and wants it that way.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is ultimately about violence and survival — about how an abused young woman (and she’s horrifically abused, as we see in an early rape scene) fights back, both for herself and for other battered women. And, in Fincher’s version, it’s also about putting together a puzzle, as we watch Salander and Blomkvist meticulously clicking the pieces together as they investigate the story of a woman who disappeared from her family’s wintry compound many years ago.

Fincher’s film, adapted by Steven Zaillian, arrives on the screen with baggage galore: It’s based on the blockbuster best-seller by the late Stieg Larsson, the first of a trilogy, and was previously and skillfully filmed with a Swedish cast. Many who saw the original film — particularly the searing performance of Noomi Rapace as Salander — wondered why there was any need to make this movie in English. The new film does suffer a bit from overfamiliarity: Many of us will know the culprit long before Blomkvist and Salander do; many will watch with the pages, or the faces of the Swedish cast, fresh in our minds.

But from its explosive, black-dipped credit sequence, this “Girl” is very much its own movie and often thrilling, right down to the details like the rotting elbows of the corduroy jacket worn by Salander’s reptilian guardian Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen), or the way the background music often sounds like evil swarms, or the small yet thoughtful ways in which Zaillian veers away from the book just a bit. This is a sharp-edged, ultraviolent (though perhaps just a shade less so than the Swedish film) mystery wrapped in a character study, and it’s Mara’s movie: Craig, impeccably controlled as the taciturn journalist, hands it to her. (He is, though, allowed one James Bond-ish moment: as Blomkvist, suddenly impossibly suave, catches a falling bottle in a kitchen as smoothly as flowing water.)

This Salander, tiny yet imposing, makes the story her own. Her gaze as unwavering as a flashlight in the dark, she tells Blomkvist that she’s hacked his bank account, tells him his balance, and adds, “I’m sorry I know that.” But she isn’t. Bring on the next two movies in the trilogy; Mara’s ready.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com