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'Girl With the Dragon Tattoo': Who's the better Lisbeth Salander?

Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara are both electrifying, but one has the edge

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Even if you didn’t particularly care for Stieg Larsson’s ubiquitous coach-class best-seller The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (guilty as charged), there’s no denying that Lisbeth Salander is one hell of a heroine. With her tribal piercings, her spiky mohawk, and her scrappy, techno-savvy smarts, she’s like an avenging cyberpunk angel?part Nancy Drew, part Siouxsie Sioux. Larsson painted Lisbeth well enough on the page, but it wasn’t until I saw her played by the brooding Noomi Rapace in the 2010 Swedish import that she truly came to life for me. There was something so feral and ferocious about Rapace’s performance that I couldn’t imagine how another actress (let alone an American one) would be able to match it. The good news is, Rooney Mara doesn’t match it. In David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, her Lisbeth is haunting, hypnotic, and most important, her own unique creation. Fincher’s smartest move, I think, was casting a relative unknown in the part. Some characters are just too iconic to be weighed down by a star’s celebrity baggage — especially considering some of the dark, brutal places Lisbeth has to go. Even though Fincher’s film had a ritzier budget and the corporate backing of a big Hollywood studio, surprisingly it’s the edgier film with a more dangerous leading lady. If Rapace lays bare the primal rage that fuels Lisbeth, Mara takes that rage and turns it in on itself. She bottles up her anger and chills it into a sort of subzero silence, letting out a banshee’s howl only when she’s safely out of sight. That’s why I’d say it’s a subtler — and ever so slightly better — performance.

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