Tatto You
- Scott R. Garceau () - February 5, 2012 - 12:00am

It’s a mark of obsessive David Fincher fans that they tend to rate his opening credit sequences. They look at Fight Club as the benchmark, with its tracking cam snaking deep inside the synapses and nervous system of Ed Norton; followed in ranking by the serial killer cut-and-paste credits of Se7en; then there’s the Trent Reznor-scored data streams of The Social Network.

Now there’s Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which presents us with, undeniably, the coolest opening three minutes in recent memory. Set to Reznor’s pulsing take on Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, with Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O wailing all over it, the credits stun us from the very first frames: gun-metal gray faces, bound and gagged, rotate in slow motion; flowers burst and contract; sweat drops fly; hornets emerge from broken corneas; mouths spew kroners while laptop connectors snake around two faces bound by some viscous liquid that could be oil, blood, or some other bodily fluid.

And it’s all apparently a dream, the disturbing twilight reel of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) unfurling in R.E.M. sleep. Or at least that’s one interpretation.

Mara (she memorably played the girl who breaks up with Mark Zuckerberg in the opening scene of The Social Network) is transformed into the girl of the title, not resembling Angelina Jolie — as those who have read Larsson’s book tell me they imagined her to be — so much as a goth hacker, an “investigator” who travels light, sans eyebrows, toting only a laptop bag and a pack of cigarettes for company. Okay, a little like the young Jolie in the movie Hackers maybe, or Daryl Hannah’s Pris from Blade Runner. In short, a chick you don’t want to mess around with.

Rooney Mara plays Lisbeth Salander, Stieg Larsson’s bad-ass hacker girl.

She is hired to investigate journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) as he faces libel charges. He, meanwhile, is hired to investigate the disappearance of a young girl, Harriet Vanger, 40 years ago in a far-north estate swirling with bad weather and bad memories — it makes the moors of Wuthering Heights seem like Amanpulo. Here, the Vanger clan live in separate houses presided over by retired patriarch Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer). They rarely speak to one another, and nobody wants to relive what happened four decades ago during an afternoon luncheon when 18-year-old Harriet wandered off and disappeared.

Larsson — a Swedish journalist who uncovered a lot of dirt in Stockholm before succumbing, some say mysteriously, to a heart attack at age 50 — painted a picture in his novels of a society corrupt to the core, where the sins of the fathers are visited upon sons and daughters and families, and institutions don’t age like fine wine so much as rot like badly-tended grapes. Fincher, working from Steve Zaillian’s tight script, captures this in subtle (and not-so-subtle) strokes, sometimes reminding us of Chinatown. You won’t find the snappy Aaron Sorkin dialogue of Social Network here, not even Robert Towne one-liners. These Swedes pretty much talk only when necessary.

As Blomkvist pores over boxes of photos, JPEGs and police reports, and lines up reluctant relatives to interview, Girl With The Dragon Tattoo downshifts into mystery mode, almost as comfortable (and slow-paced) as an old Agatha Christie book by the fireplace, at least until the movie shifts back to Salander. She is, after all, the girl of the title.

A ward of the state of Sweden, Salander has been deemed “mentally incompetent” and must report monthly to her guardian, a sleazy lawyer (Yorick van Wageningen) who dispenses her pitiful allowance in exchange for sexual favors. Salander, a researcher for Milton Securities, does private hacking as a sideline, and we soon learn she has the resources to look after herself against sleazy state-appointed lawyers. The scenes that unfold in the lawyer’s office and bedroom are among the most repellent in recent film memory; yet they’re there to justify the carefully arranged payback, when it arrives.

Head case: Salander gives a caution to sleazy lawyer Yorick van Wageningen.

It’s good that Lisbeth is so resourceful, because Craig’s character is much less so. In fact he’s kind of a tool, fumbling around the estate, trying to piece together the moments preceding the young girl’s disappearance. The game of cat and mouse is quickly reversed, with all the Vangers seeing right through Blomkvist’s claim to be writing a “family memoir”; they know he’s poking around for the sordid truth. When he uncovers a notebook of Biblical passages (shades of Se7en), Mikael needs a skilled hacker to decipher their meaning. He visits Lisbeth’s apartment and lays out the case: intrigued, she agrees to help him.

In short order, they’re shacked up together at the Vanger estate, and we get to see a lot more of the famed dragon tattoo, along with the surrounding topography of Rooney Mara’s body. It’s fair to say she likes to be in the driver’s seat.

There’s a lot of sweat and angry sex between the two, but mostly they’re working on the case together. In one post-coital moment, he declares “I like working with you” at a moment when one might normally be expected to say “I love you.” He even stops one of their saddle romps to start ruminating on a niggling detail of the case, until she claps a hand over his mouth to shut him up.

You see, Lisbeth Salander is always in control. Except, it seems, of her emotions and her own heart. She always arrives right on time, motorcycle helmet in hand, leather jacket and lit cigarette intact, fingers flying over her mini-laptop keys to arrive at just the right combination. She’s the girl we’ll be tracking through two sequels, as intriguing in her own bundle of pathologies as Jason Bourne. She’s the star of this Fincher movie, the girl who doesn’t need to pistol-whip somebody to get what she wants (but she will do so if necessary), and Mara has rightly earned an Oscar nod for transforming her American self into a Swedish embodiment of femininity fighting to survive in a quagmire of patriarchal decay. She’s an equal match to the opening film credits, in every way.

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