By now many of the arguments have been waged over the casting of Rooney Mara as the damaged hacker Lisbeth Salander in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." She's brooding, but is she tough? She's attractive, but is she too attractive? She can do moody, but can she get expressive? It's nearly impossible to satisfy fans of a popular literary character: Pick a huge star and she comes freighted with her previous roles; take an unknown and fans ask, nervously, what she's done to deserve the promotion.
It's not easy, in other words, being David Fincher.
Given this dilemma, the director split the difference: He took an actress some of us may have seen, but not one we have too many preconceptions about, the best-known among a group of unknowns (but of course not unknown to him, what with the director observing her up-close as the female co-lead in his "The Social Network.")
Those us who watched the actress in "A Nightmare on Elm Street" may have seen some of the same glints that Fincher spotted, appreciating the restraint that could serve her well in a role otherwise susceptible to scenery-chewing. If she's a little mopey, it's probably better than being a little over the top.
There's also a quiet confidence that comes out in Mara's Nancy Holbrook character, the kind that lies carefully between passivity and hyperactivity. In a horror genre in which an actor's main skill generally involves running and shrieking, Mara conveyed fear in more subtle ways.
That quiet can also come off less as angry than as wide-eyed, a suggestion that she doesn't regard the world with the same suspicion as Noomi Rapace, who originated the role. That's probably giving rise to some of the toughness questions. But there are worse things than compensating for swagger with soul.
Maybe most fitting are the ways in which Mara's "Nightmare" character parallels the Salander one. In the horror remake, she's also a strong but lonerish type, and one who happens to team with a male counterpart to solve brutal crimes using shoe-leather research. And she does all this, for the most part, convincingly.
Fans who hold the Millennium trilogy dear and worry about a Katie-Holmes-in-Batman weak-link problem may also want to keep this in mind: Repeat actor-director relationships tend to work out over time. Burton and Depp, Scorsese and DeNiro/DiCaprio, Hitchcock and Grant/Stewart. If an A-list director can work with anyone he likes and chooses the very same person he just worked with, that's good news.
Fincher is no stranger to mining new talent, particularly of the Goth sort -- with "The Panic Room," after all, he gave Kristen Stewart one of her first big film roles. But don't let that example depress you. In 1995, Fincher took another relatively fresh face and put it front and center in a movie that became a beloved blockbuster. The actor was Brad Pitt, and that role in "Se7en" in many ways set the stage for the actor's career. Mara probably won't become one of the world's most famous faces, marry one of the world's other most famous faces and adopt a group of children from Africa. But she'll probably do fine just the same.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Rooney Mara in "A Nightmare on Elm Street." Credit: Warner Bros.
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