Monday, January 9, 2012

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

Directed by David Fincher, written by Steven Zaillian, based on the novel by Stieg Larsson, starring Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, and Stellan Skarsgard - Rated R

A dark story made even better by David Fincher's cold direction.

It was only a matter of time before Stieg Larsson’s addictive novels got the Hollywood treatment.  Thankfully, Director David Fincher was given the task to bring the first novel to the big screen.  Fincher’s signature cold, methodical style forms a perfect union with Larsson’s dark, somewhat twisted source material.  Add a great performance from Rooney Mara and you have one of the best thrillers of the year. 
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the dark story of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander.  Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is an investigative journalist who has recently been publicly discredited.  Just as he begins to lie low for awhile he is contacted by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), an elderly businessman who wants Blomkvist to solve a decades old murder.  Meanwhile, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) conducts investigations of her own, though through more illegal means, mainly computer hacking.  Eventually their paths cross and an unlikely partnership is formed.
If there’s one word that can describe The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, that would be “cold.”  First off, the film is literally cold as it takes place in Sweden and snow is ever present.  The protagonist, Mikael Blomkvist, is cold throughout most of the film.  More importantly, it’s Fincher cold.  The director is known for his style, though the most talked about element of his filmmaking is usually his camerawork: the regatta scene in The Social Network, the “go anywhere, through everything” camera movements of the majority of his films, etc.  In other works, though, like Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Se7en, and now The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it’s more about the mood of the film.  Fincher’s camera still moves around effectively, but it doesn’t draw attention to itself.  Overall, Fincher creates an unsettling, dark tone that is perfect for this adaptation.  The emotionless tone works so well because of the titular girl of the film: Lisbeth Salander.
Lisbeth Salander was instantly a literary icon upon the publication of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, so the role of the film version is the role of a lifetime.  Noomi Rapace has shot to prominence after portraying her in the Swedish versions of the films, and now Rooney Mara (the girl who dumps Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network) is set to do the same after giving a very effective performance.  In one of the best performances of the year, Mara embodies Salander perfectly.  Salander is a troubled young woman, or she is according to the state.  She is under the guardianship of a despicable man (an absolutely repugnant Yorick van Wageningen) and is not even allowed to look after her own money.  Salander does not do herself any favors by embracing her otherness through her style.  She has the appearance of a troubled hacker, though she can definitely handle herself just fine…as long as it’s done her way. 
Daniel Craig is as much the star of this film as Mara is, however, especially considering that the film’s story is mainly about him.  Craig does a fine job, though his character pales in comparison to Salander.  He is still an immensely watchable actor who seems to effortlessly add energy to the film.  Christopher Plummer is fine as the patriarch of the Vanger family, though I must admit I always envisioned Max von Sydow for his role and still wish he had portrayed Henrik. 
The story of the film may belong to Blomkvist, but the film itself hinges on Salander.  From the techno James Bond-esque opening credits sequence, it is clear that Salander’s character is the core of the film.  Her dark past isn’t expanded on with much detail (which makes her all the more interesting), but Salander still has to go through some brutal moments throughout the film and she easily becomes a likable, twisted anti-hero. 
The brutality of the film is all part of Salander’s character and Fincher’s style.  Fincher has never been one to shy away from violence and this film is no exception.  It’s not gratuitous and he even backs away from the more gruesome scenes, allowing the sounds of the characters and the score to do their work as the camera slowly dollies back.  Speaking of the score, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have created a nicely understated and unsettling score.  While their work for The Social Network was so prominent it was almost a character, the score for Dragon Tattoo always seems to be lurking under the surface, which is exactly where it needs to be for a film like this. 
The style, the characters, the performances, and the tone are what make The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a great movie, but the story is quite engrossing as well.  The investigation Blomkvist and Salander undertake is a very interesting murder-mystery not just because of the crime itself but also because of the Vanger family and all its secrets.  The mystery is complex and takes up quite some time.  This is a lengthy film, though it doesn’t overstay its welcome. 
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an entertaining, interesting, mature film that has immense style, yet manages to be subdued.  There’s something to be said for a director who can place his stamp on a film without being in your face about it.  David Fincher created a great sensory world for an adaptation of fascinating source material, all of which is elevated by performance, most notably that of Rooney Mara.  It was tagged as the “feel bad movie of Christmas” and that is absolutely true in the best way.
Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

So what's the deal?  Since Craig is Bond does he have it in his contract that all opening sequences should resemble 007 openings?  All kidding aside, I really dug that sequence, especially the cover of "Immigrant Song." 

As for music, "Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)" by Enya will forever remind me of this film now.  The use of that song was hilarious. 

Some brutal moments that made me wince: the football kick of the thing into the know what I'm talking about.  Ouch.  Also, the golf iron to the face.  Some of the images of this film are burned into my memory...

It's been awhile since I've read the book, but I did pick up on a few things and I was very glad to see an empty box for Billy's Pan Pizza in Salander's apartment.  I always found it amusing how Larsson would go into such extreme detail to the point he would list grocery items.  Of course, a detailed director like Fincher would work that in.


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