Could Swedish author Stieg Larsson have dreamed up “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” after watching David Fincher’s “Seven,” wondering: Instead of the seven deadly sins, how about some particularly punitive verses from Leviticus?
Such thoughts may cross your mind while you’re watching the director’s return to the serial killer genre after forays into the origins of Facebook in “The Social Network” and state-of-the-art special effects in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
Like “Seven,” “Tattoo” boasts a galvanizing opening credit sequence, in which the film’s birdlike star, Rooney Mara, is clad in rubber and drenched in oil as Karen O squawks on the soundtrack, “I come from the land of the ice and snow ” And like “Seven,” what follows never lives up to those credits. But it’s still a satisfying thriller and welcome counter-programming for the Christmas season.
Those who saw last year’s Swedish film of Larsson’s international best-seller will experience déjà vu when disgraced journalist Mikail Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) hires young hacker Lisbeth Salander (Mara) with the awkwardly-translated-from-the-Swedish pitch, “I want you to help me find a killer of women.”
Blomkvist, who has taken leave from the magazine he founded after losing a libel suit to a corrupt businessman, and Salander, a surly and heavily pierced ward of the state, are investigating the disappearance, 40 years ago, of the teenage niece of powerful industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer). Vanger believes that his niece Harriet was killed by a member of his large family. Like Agatha Christie detectives, Blomkvist and Salander need look no further.
Mara, who played Mark Zuckerberg’s ex-girlfriend in “The Social Network,” makes a strong, off-putting impression as sullen punk Lisbeth Salander. With those bleached eyebrows, she’s less pretty than the Swedish Salander, Noomi Rapace, and thus less of a male fantasy.
This leaves Craig and his steely blues to shoulder the sex appeal, but Mikael Blomkvist is no James Bond, just a middle-aged muckraker who’s over his head. Craig’s excuse for dropping the Swedish accent is that Blomkvist is a well-traveled fellow who speaks perfect Eng-lish, but the others speak with a Swedish accent because they’re abiding by the convention that they are actually speaking Swedish.
With its Nazi grandpa, plaintiff-favoring libel laws, hackers on the dole and tolerance for adultery, Larsson’s story could never have been transplanted to the U.S. This is northern Sweden as experienced by Californians, shivering as the wind howls and the snow blows horizontally. Blomkvist, given shabbier accommodations this time around, has to burn a Kurt Vonnegut novel to keep warm. Mara and Craig may generate no heat, but who has in a Fincher flick besides Zuckerberg and his computer?
For all their sleuthing, it takes Blomkvist’s born-again daughter (Josefin Asplund) to explain that those mysterious numbers in the back of Harriet’s diary are biblical verses. There is a twist, and toward the end screenwriter Steven Zaillian makes the dialogue more his own as the villain struggles to keep a straight face. (Those who are expecting an indictment of the 1 percent will be sorely disappointed.)
The most nuanced performance is given by Yorick van Wageningen as Salander’s despicable state-appointed guardian; he still deserves what’s coming to him, but one gets the queasy feeling that he’s a little bit in love with his ward.
Since the horrors of the Swedish film were explicit enough, all that’s left for Fincher is to amp up the bodily fluids — and since this is Hollywood, the product placement, with a welcome nod to Purell. You may want to bathe in it when this is over.