Ah, Salander

Did Stieg Larsson know his character Lisbeth Salander was destined to achieve the iconic status of a Marvel superhero? Maybe not.  

In the 2011 American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, available on DVD at Whitehorse Public Library, director David Fincher and screenwriter Steven Zaillian elegantly adapt Larsson’s sprawling Swedish noir to its essence: a dark story about the search for a serial murderer of women, led by an odd couple of social outcasts.

Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) suffers a professional setback when he’s convicted of libelling a corrupt financier in the magazine he publishes in partnership with Erica Berger (Robin Wright).

Wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) seizes this low moment in Blomkvist’s life to invite him to write his memoir. But Vanger has a more compelling motive than hagiography to entice the reluctant Blomkvist into living in a cabin on his remote northern property. Forty years earlier his young grandniece Harriet disappeared seemingly into the air from the Vangers’ island estate. It’s a locked-room mystery that intrigues Mikael and soon he’s making new discoveries in the search for the long-lost girl.

When he asks for a research assistant, Vanger’s lawyer suggests the woman they hired through their security firm to look into Blomkvist’s background. Brilliant, but possessing the social skills of a porcupine, Lisbeth Salander has many secrets, including that she’s a world-class hacker. Luckily for Blomkvist, she also has a subterranean passion for righting wrongs done to women.

Fincher retains the Scandinavian feel of Larsson’s trilogy, in part because he filmed on location in Stockholm and Uppsala, which provide an array of chilly, photogenic scenery to underscore the bleak themes of peril and secrecy. Another factor is his decision to have the American actors speak with Swedish accents. The authenticity of those accents might be in question, but they reinforce a foreign quality that works especially well for the character of Salander.

American actress Rooney Mara perfectly represents the charisma and contradictions of Lisbeth Salander, embodying the fiercely intelligent warrior as well as the vulnerability of the young woman who has fallen prey to an authoritarian system – Stieg Larsson’s preoccupations with sexual violence and the systemic oppression of women are unusual for the crime genre.

Daniel Craig divests himself of the James Bond persona for one less physically heroic and more attuned to contemporary values. In a story that circles around the horrific things some men do to women, Blomkvist stands out as a feminist and stalwart companion, if a bit slow on the uptake compared to Lisbeth. Larsson made Mikael irresistible for the ladies (inexplicably to many readers), but the film isn’t faithful to that aspect.

Fans of the novels will be satisfied with other casting choices as well, notably Stellan Skarsgård as Martin Vanger and Yorick Van Wageningen as the odious Nils Bjurman.

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