I saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo last night and was very entertained. Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) has classic underdog appeal, the plot (a murder case decades in the making) is intricate enough to keep you intrigued but not so complex as to be inaccessible, and the underlying ethos, while plagued by a series of rapists and Nazis, as well as a garden variety leading man (Daniel Craig) who has sex with every female character, can get away with calling itself feminist.
As A. O. Scott recently wrote in the Times, however, there are some quaint devices, like the James Bond-esque bad guy who confesses everything right before he attempts to kill the hero in a Dr. Seussian way instead of by just shooting him. But I enjoyed having my strings pulled by this film, largely because of the compelling character that is Lisbeth. She’s diminutive—“emaciated”—in stature, with all kinds of earrings and tattoos and a fondness for what an ignoramus like me might dub death metal. She’s been abused and victimized her entire life, and has all the social skills of an Asperger’s sufferer as a result, but she also wields a remarkable skill set: spying, hacking, researching. She knows how to get revenge, but she also has her weaknesses (as all female characters must, obvi). All the same, she represents a refreshing departure from the norm for action film protagonists.
Because I see a lot of theater, film, when I do see it, is a marvel. Film directors can accomplish so much in so brief a time, suggesting an entire scene in just a few seconds. The screenplay of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was an excellent adaptation, thrifty in its storytelling, brisk in its pace. (While A. O. Scott found the exposition ponderous, I thought it necessary to the narrative.) (And my mother, an avid fan of the trilogy, said the film felt quite faithful to the book.) The experience makes me wonder how many contemporary novels could be readily adapted into plays. My uneducated guess is not many; current narratives seem to tend toward the cinematic in structure. And how many novels could limit themselves to only a few scene changes? Theater might continue to be on its own for a while.