Why Daniel Craig, Not Rooney Mara, Is the Real ‘Girl’ in ‘Dragon Tattoo’

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Analysis: As Mikael Blomkvist, the James Bond star leaves the seduction and ass-kicking to his female cohort

ANALYSIS

What happened to 007?

In “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” the swaggering, lady-killing Daniel Craig is practically a damsel in distress.

As investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist, Craig leaves the gun-slinging and bare-knuckle beating to his sleuthing partner, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara).

[SPOILER ALERT]

In a pivotal scene, it is Craig who is tied up by a serial killer. The film implies that he would join a long list of victims were it not for a golf club wielded by Salander. Throughout the ordeal, he barely puts up a fight.

Also read: 'Dragon Tattoo' Isn't Slaying the Box Office — But Its Sequel Is Moving Forward

It’s left to Salander to ask as the villain escapes from his torture chamber, “May I kill him?”

Over the course of the nearly three-hour mystery, Salander will also beat up a hapless mugger and exact gruesome revenge on a rapist.

In contrast, Craig’s Blomkvist is shot at, nearly vomits at the sight of a mutilated pet, and never lifts anything more dangerous than a pen — which in David Fincher’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s crime novel is a lot less mighty than the sword or even Salander’s cursor.

In a refreshing change of pace, Craig's  female cohort is physically and mentally superior. Too often, it seems, mainstream movies force actresses to twiddle their thumbs until their male costars can save or seduce them. 

Not this time. 

As David Denby notes in his New Yorker review of the film, “In this movie, [Craig] is modest, quiet, even rather recessive. It’s Mara’s shot at stardom, and he lets her have it.”

It’s as if he’s playing, in sexist movie terms, "the girl." The frequently shirtless Craig almost seems to be doing penance for all of his chasing after women as James Bond. This time, the British actor allows himself to be the object of desire.

In a twist that would be unimaginable for say, Sean Connery, Craig lets Mara drive the love train when it comes to their between-the-sheets encounters.

It’s she who seduces him, while he raises a few mild objections about his age and the impact a hook up might have on their working relationship.

That differs from Larsson’s portrayal of Blomkvist. In the book, the journalist is much more sexually promiscuous. Although the movie retains Blomkvist's affair with his editor Erika Berger (Robin Wright), it jettisons his other sexual liaisons. 

That was a deliberate choice, screenwriter Steven Zaillian said in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly.

“I'm a fan of the book — I like it very much — but when I was reading it at a certain point I thought, am I reading 'Shampoo?'” Zaillian told the magazine. “Is this Warren Beatty or is this Mikael Blomkvist? I didn't drop those things in order to make him more sympathetic. It was really just that they were unnecessary to the story."

Carnal relations aside, Craig does piece together some important clues early in the mystery, but his investigation is more or less at a dead-end until he enlists the computer hacking, motorcycle straddling Salander. In short order, Salander is able to link a series of apparently disconnected murders with a few clicks of the cursor and a couple of visits to Swedish police stations.

In one scene, a kindly police officer asks Salander if she’s had anything to eat before she looks at photos of a savage murder scene. He’s concerned, he says, that she might be sick.

As Mara’s butt-kicking Salander demonstrates throughout the Nordic thriller, there’s no reason to worry.

Craig’s Blomkvist, on the other hand, better look at those pictures on an empty stomach.