Set against a cold, harsh, yet beautiful Swedish landscape, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo immediately throws the audience into the dark underworld of private investigation. Elements of film noir are abundant in this thriller, yet many familiar conventions are turned completely on their head.
Our leading man, Daniel Craig is far from the hero of the piece, as he is presented as a man with many faults. This aspect to his character makes him feel real, and his weaknesses are presented openly, proving that Craig is more than a bulletproof Bond boy. Although his performance is exceptional, it pales in comparison to Rooney Mara’s portrayal of Lisbeth Salander. Our heroine, Salander, is unconventional in every way. The first we hear about her is that she is ‘different’; her differences are not just physical (piercings, tattoos, unconventional hair cut) but also emotional and intellectual. Salander is presented as a strong and determined hacker, confident in her own abilities, with no time for small talk. But as the plot unravels, we see another side to her: a vulnerable and painful past, drawing us in to her complex character, yet never revealing too much, maintaining her elusive charm.
Her interactions with other characters, especially men, tell us a great deal about her past, and I particularly enjoyed watching her relationship with Blomkvist (Craig) develop, as she asserts her intellectual superiority whilst also taking control sexually, reasserting her emotional strength after the crippling rape scene earlier in the film.
Mara’s physicality as Salander is a truly unique performance: she manages to convey angst, loneliness and sexual desire simultaneously, and as the camera work and wardrobe department do not over-sexualize her character (as with other heroines such as Lara Croft and Selene of Underworld), her depth of character is totally believable. Salander is at once brooding and endearing, an example of which occurs in my favourite line, when she asks Craig “May I kill him?”, demonstrating good etiquette whilst bluntly speaking of murder: one of the films rare comic moments.
The plot is full of twists and surprises, and like any good thriller, the odd red herring. The supporting cast are also excellent in their roles, with Stellan Skarsgard another stand out performance. The balance between the central mystery and surrounding sub plots is well calculated, and the pace of the action makes this film sophisticated and intelligent, with set pieces subtly moving the plot forward rather than detracting from the complex web of investigation.
I have chosen to award this film 4 stars as I thought that the casting, cinematography and pace were all brilliantly measured. As I have no experience of the original Stieg Larsson novels, I cannot consider a fifth star as I am unable to comment on the film as an adaptation, however, as a piece of cinema, this is excellent film making and a must watch for all thriller fans.