The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

by Steve Habrat

American fans of Stieg Larsson’s webbed murder mystery novels now have a reason to celebrate with the arrival of David Fincher’s fiercely loyal The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, an frigid film that proudly embraces graphic rape scenes, torture, and fits of bright red gore on white tile. Fincher promised the film would earn its hard R rating and he sure as hell made good on that promise. Being someone who read the novel and was left underwhelmed by it considering all the hype that surrounds the books, the movie clipped the drier moments and kept the pace swift and forthright, even if it did sometimes feel like the Cliff Notes version of the book. As far as this film being the follow-up to Fincher’s praised The Social Network, it is a worthy follow up, if a bit of an epic one at that. But this isn’t The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or The Social Network Fincher. Oh no, this is Fincher in the vein of Zodiac with a touch of Seven and the camera flips of Fight Club. This is down and dirty Fincher. His choice for his punk rock hacker heroine, Lisbeth Salander, who is tackled here by the immersive Rooney Mara was a wise one and she gives one of the finest performances of the year.

Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Played by Daniel Craig) is hired by the retired CEO Henrik Vanger (Played by Christopher Plummer) of Vanger Industries to help him solve the mysterious disappearance of his great-niece Harriet Vanger. Henrik promises Mikael that if he discovers anything at all about Harriet, he will give him information on Hans-Erik Wennerstrom, the businessman who brought the libel charge against Mikael and ruined his career. As Mikael digs deeper and deeper into the history of the Vanger family (You practically need a family tree to keep up with who all of them are), sinister secrets start to emerge that some of them want to keep quiet. Mikael also finds himself in need of a secretary and he gets more than he bargained for when he is brought Lisbeth Salander (Played by Mara), an anti-social computer hacker and punk rocker who is a wizard at research and has been doing some digging on her own.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo comes with a lot of baggage. It is a psychological scorcher, equipped with a heavy plotline and more characters than you can shake a piece of IKEA furniture at. It also has some fits of black humor that will lighten the tension that is caused by not one, but two stationary rape sequences. Yet the film is fearless, tackling issues of trust, solitude, and the drive to prove oneself. Both Mikael and Lisbeth have been disgraced and they both are eager to bring honor to their name. It should be noted that they go about drastically different ways of doing it. Fincher edits the action together with quick, precise cuts that cause a few scenes at the beginning to feel a little too brief. He is very anxious to get to Hedeby Island and focused on igniting the web that is the disappearance of Harriet Vanger. At two hours and forty minutes, Fincher could have slowed it down a bit, but I also understand that he has a lot  of material to tackle to satisfy fans. I’m fairly convinced done right by them.

If the length and strong subject matter turns you off, the performances will surely wet your appetite. Rooney Mara, who had a bit part as Zuckerberg’s girlfriend in The Social Network, looses herself in the role of Salander. She apparently took up smoking for the role, got everything from her eyebrow to her nipples pierced, and bleached her eyebrows. She has a slight alien look to her but it is also beautiful in bizarre way. She can be devastating (Just watch her at the hands of guardian Nils Bjurman, who tortures her mentally as well as sexually), resilient, haunted by her past, and in the blink of an eye, stare daggers right through you. For a film this fearless, it needs a heroine just as fearless and it is without question one of the most confident starring roles I have seen all year. Craig is overshadowed by Mara but she does deserve the attention she is getting for her work. Craig’s character is altered from the book, less a womanizer and a not quiet as confident. He has a sense of humor, sometimes at himself, and it appears as if he gives himself some room to have fun with the role at times. This isn’t clean cut Craig, but a coarse “detective” roaming a snowy film noir. Fincher couldn’t resist making another one (Seven, anyone?) and he even gives us a femme fatale. Plummer is also award-worthy in his own way, a fatigued old man just looking for the truth. He has the second greatest line of the movie. Everyone else is background performance good, no one being the weak link in the chain. Stellan Skarsgard gets the chance to play a slippery part, the mysterious current CEO of Vanger Industries.

Fincher applies some chilling artistry to the film, mostly in the creepy, alien-like biblical readings from Harriet that slink in every now and then. These will make your arm hair stand on end, I promise you. Fincher goes on to paint an uninviting portrait with a craggy background and spitting snow. Everything has a slight decayed and dusty look, more in the vein of Zodiac and Seven. He trades his trademark amber glow and rich colors for cool, faded tans, whites, and shocking blues. Fincher puts the mystery right out in the open and tells us to have at it. The twinkling score from Oscar winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is sometimes dreamy and sometimes keenly aware of the pulsating evil and doom coursing through the film’s vein. Fincher must have wanted to emulate his own success, the score never being as ear grabbing as The Social Network, but it adds a foreign sound to a film that takes place in a foreign land.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of the best mainstream films to come out in 2011. A hearty crime thriller that isn’t afraid to leave the audience rubbed the wrong way and a performance that will join the ranks of great movie performances. The film was released during head-scratching time and I wonder if releasing it at Christmas was the smartest move by the studio. I know it tried to embrace and poke fun at the season it has been released in, but the studio has to understand that this isn’t everyone’s cup of Wayne’s Coffee. The film, just like the book, many demand a few views for all the action to really sink in and to give the audience the opportunity to learn who all these characters are. In a way, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is decently timed by the studio, a chilly film to compliment and enhance the chilly weather. And trust me, this one will chill you to the bone marrow.

Grade: A-

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Posted on December 27, 2011, in REViEW and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Fantastic write-up. I totally agree about Rooney Mara, and I never expected to be so impressed with her. She’s so good at projecting emotion and intent with barely a change in her facial expression. I’m looking forward to seeing the Swedish film and seeing how she and Noomi Rapace compare.

    I think the various Vanger family members added a bit of uneasiness to the experience, for me. It was hard to keep the all straight, but they were all so… bizarre and potentially dangerous that you never knew when any of them might throw a wrench into Mikael and Lisbeth’s plans.

    Well done! 🙂

    • Thanks for the kind words! I honestly think that Mara has the Best Actress Oscar in her hand already. She was mesmerizing. You couldn’t help but like her and you are so right about the intent in her face. The wheels were always turning even when she had her face buried in a hoodie.

      I also agree about the Vanger family. The Nazi was extremely sinister and his entrance was one to remember. It was very film noir-ish and for some reason was evocative of the 1946 film Gilda. I still haven’t figured out why but that movie crept into my mind when he was introduced. Martin Vanger was a very neat character by the end.

      Thanks for checking out the review.

  2. Nice review, I really dug this flick. I was a bit aprehensive going in as I had enjoyed the original films. However Fincher really brought his A game to this picture.

    One of my few complaints would be that despite the lenght of the film it felt a bit rushed to me at the end.

    • Thank you! I was excited for it simply because it was Fincher behind the camera again. I found Larsson’s book to be a bit clunky in points and extremely underwhelming. Fincher really gave it some style and creep-out moments. The ending, however, still felt tacked on just like it did in the book.

      Overall, it still ranks as one of the best of the year in my humble opinion. I really liked the movie. I just wish there was a way to rework the climax.

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