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Entries in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo/The [2011] (1)

Wednesday
Dec212011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Indelibly Incredible

Here's where I'm coming from: I've never read Stieg Larsson's Millenium Trilogy, nor have I seen Niels Arden Oplev's 2009 Swedish adaptation, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or its two sequels. I had few clues going into David Fincher's remake as to the plot--only that Daniel Craig plays a journalist, Rooney Mara plays an awkward, Goth-y hacker, and murder is involved. I'd also heard about the outrage/concern/suspicion over Fincher's audacity in re-doing a franchise that has been an international box office success (except here in America, where people only like to read things on screen during karaoke night).

If you're a fan of the source material, your enjoyment mileage may vary. I can only speak as someone who went into the theatre without baggage, and came out loving the film. Fincher and writer Steven Zaillian have delivered a dark, sprawling mystery that should satisfy even the most cynical, quality-starved moviegoer.

Craig stars as Mikael Blomqvist, the disgraced editor of a Swedish news magazine called Millenium. After running a hatchet piece on local sleazy industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerstrom (Ulf Friberg) that came up short on the facts, he steps down and accepts an unusual freelance gig from a strange but seemingly less corrupt industrialist named Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer). It turns out his niece, Harriet (Moa Garpendal), went missing forty years ago during a party at the family's luxurious estate. Desperate to learn the secret of Harriet's disappearance before his health gives out, Vanger offers to double Blomqvist's salary and throw in both a hefty bonus and hard, incriminating evidence against Wennerstrom on completion of the assignment.

Running parallel to this story is that of Lisbeth Salander (Mara), an anti-social computer genius hired by Vanger's right-hand man to vet Blomqvist for the job. Her digging led her to believe that Wennerstrom is, in fact, guilty, and she launches an independent investigation--one that begins with tapping his computer to view all ingoing and outgoing emails. In her personal life, Lisbeth must contend with the unwanted advances of her slimy public assistance counselor, Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen).

Eventually, Blomqvist and Lisbeth team up to work on the Vanger case, which turns out to be a mess of unreliable testimony, hidden photographs, and doorways into a slew of grisly, unsolved, decades-old murders--all involving a family with a Nazi past and violently ill-tempered present.

Giving away more than this top-level synopsis would be criminal. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a rich, dense thriller that relies on revelations more than car chases and violence to shock the audience. It's Fincher mashing up two of his own best recent works, Zodiac and The Social Network, into a feature that surpasses both in many ways.

In Blomqvist, we have the isolated, depressed detective whose obsession leads him to confront dangers no one else had bothered (or been able) to find--much like Zodiac's Robert Graysmith character. In Lisbeth, we have the isolated, depressed computer genius whose social skills have been erased by unheard of cyber knowledge--like the Mark Zuckerberg character in The Social Network. I realize Larsson is the one who ultimately put these archetypes on the collision path, but Fincher's Dragon Tattoo feels so original and so suited to the director's sensibilities, that I can totally understand why he'd want to tackle the material.

This film is patient and meticulous, and also confident in the audience's ability to catch up. The script drops us into a world of characters we don't see until long after we've first been told of their significance in rushed bits of dialogue. At one point, Blomqvist confesses to Vanger that he's being thrown too many names and connections. When Vanger assures his confidante that everyone will become very familiar in time, he's also talking to us; it's a claim we don't believe at first, but it turns out to be absolutely true.

As with all of Fincher's movies, Dragon Tattoo is a marvel of cinematography and production design. Donald Graham Burt and Trish Summerville capture the script's seemingly fractured narrative in their gorgeous sets and wardrobe, respectively. From Blomqvist's remote, wintry house on the Vanger estate, to the sad digs of an urban monster, to an idyllic summer parade in 1966, every detail is fetishized and made into a beautiful, breathing object--but not in a way that begs for attention. If you don't care about such things, Dragon Tattoo can wash right over you; but if you're a hyper-aware environment geek, you'll get a cavity from all the eye candy.

I'd be remiss if I didn't call out the soundtrack. Half-way through the film, I'd resolved to buy Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' score; by the end, I was too creeped out to even think about having it in my house. In addition to the hard-driving techno you might expect, Dragon Tattoo is overrun by spookier themes that I'm not qualified to describe in detail. I will say that the recurrent voices of murdered girls reading Bible versus into what sounds like a tape recorder gave me goose bumps. Reznor and Ross might be up for another Oscar next year for this one--but I won't own the score anytime soon.

I could write another ten paragraphs on the movie's excellent performances, but I'll limit myself to discussing Mara and Craig's unlikely crime-fighting duo. Craig does very well in playing down his unconventional-leading-man glamour and portraying Blomqvist as a reckless, wannabe playboy. It's hard to shake the image of him as James Bond, but only insofar as Blomqvist keeps making lousy decisions that land him in decidedly un-Bondian peril (the climax, for example, sees Blomqvist as the damsel in distress). My one critique is that, unlike every other player, the leading man doesn't even bother with an accent (come to think of it, he may have started the film with one, but it was as dead as the killer's victims by the end).

Not being familiar with Noomi Rapace's interpretation of the Lisbeth character, I'll tiptoe into this assertion: Rooney Mara creates a ballsy, wounded screen icon for the ages. It's so strange to think that this Lisbeth could have sprung from the same actress who helped sink the Nightmare on Elm Street remake with her droopy non-persona. She does so much to make Lisbeth a believable, messed up heroine, a brilliant lost soul who's never known a stable, loving relationship. Even when the film goes "soft" by having Lisbeth and Blomqvist momentarily hook up, Mara doesn't lose the twisted spark that makes her character pop. She's the pierced, inked embodiment of roaring women everywhere.

Fincher's version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is still ostensibly the first chapter of a trilogy. But it doesn't feel that way. I have a couple of ideas as to where the story might go, but Zaillian never tips his hand. If no one shows up to "The Feel-bad Movie of Christmas", it has enough closure to not piss off its fans; if this incarnation of the franchise continues, I have a feeling there's a delicious bit of reckoning in a couple characters' futures. Personally, I hope I get to see more.

Granted, I could just watch the complete Swedish trilogy and find out what happens. But I have no interest, honestly. I'm hooked on Fincher's take, and am content (for the time being) to let Alternate Universe Ian be the Oplev snob who shuns what he probably considers Hollywood's gaudy cash-cow.