The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Review
|REVIEWS - MOVIES|
David Fincher's done it again...
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - more than one way to skin a cat...
I was concerned by the news last year that an English language version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was in the pipeline so drastically soon after the original, Swedish version’s release. However, one portion of the news gave me reason to believe it may be worthwhile, this being the name attached to the project – David Fincher.
The man’s now unmissable cinematic voice; the often dark, grimy framing - as seen with Se7en, Fight Club and the superb procedural thriller Zodiac - that so frequently reflects the complex psychology and twisted philosophy of the characters whose story he is telling, made him an obvious choice for a story of misogyny, abuse of power, Nazis, sexual politics and corporate corruption. Furthermore, the stories protagonist - a socially delinquent, cyber-goth hacker known as Lisbeth Salander - rang true to Fincher's style.
Though Lisbeth is the central focus, the story begins with Mikael Blomkvist, a liberal journalist who uses the Millennium magazine to take on corruption wherever it may rear its ugly head. He is hired by an elderly patriarch of an industrial company to investigate a murder that took place forty years prior. Meanwhile, Lisbeth is lying to her new legal guardian about what it is she actually does at the security firm where she holds the title of “the best research assistant they have”. It is through a series of realistic convolutions that these two characters meet and Blomkvist enlists Lisbeth’s help in his investigation; from here it is fast down the dark, sordid, proverbial rabbit hole they go, ultimately uncovering a perverse criminality that should keep you awake at night, haunted by the notion that such depravity exists to write stories about.
Fincher hooks us in immediately with what is almost definitely the best credit sequence of the year (something which is now becoming a Fincher trademark in itself). Set to the forceful Immigrant Song, as recorded by Trent Reznor and Karen O, it works as a music video on its own and subtly sets up the hidden fury of Lisbeth Salander beautifully. Reznor then continues to work musical magic with partner Atticus Ross - throughout the next two and a half hours, they repeat and improve upon their success with The Social Network, Fincher’s last collaboration with them, creating a soundtrack that becomes a character in the film.
Whether they are translating the chill of Sweden’s bitter weather into sound, unsettling or grating at your nerves, underlining incredible hold-your-breath tension, scoring a rage that is bubbling away under a character’s skin, or at one point even pushing us to almost feeling appropriately sick, they succeed at every turn, their atmospheric ambience never far away. Never before has the simple act of gathering information from a library of records been so exciting! A disquieting, gothic beauty bleeds from every frame of this film, every scene looks like it took a day just to get the lighting right; in this way it brings to mind Conrad L. Hall’s work with Sam Mendes. It is simply an incredible film to look at.
All performances here are convincing and powerful, even if the great Christopher Plummer seems underused, but the two leads are the ones who deserve the most glory. Sharing the majority of the screen time, Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara (in a performance that will catapult her to stardom and possibly an award) have a chemistry that is convincing in a way I have not seen for some time, and is even humorous on a surprising number of occasions. Mikael’s ability to almost immediately break through the wall of cold indifference erected by Lisbeth is not hard to buy into, and the affection we harbour for them builds nicely over the course of their time together, so that by the final act we are rooting for them.
Craig downplays Mikael impressively, a wise directorial decision that allows Mara to shine as our avenging angel and heroine. For those who have read the book it is possible to argue that, despite any love we may have for Noomi Rapace’s and her original take on the character, it is Rooney Mara who embodies Lisbeth in a way that more closely resembles the woman on the page. Fragile, unconfident, weak and vulnerable, not to mention intentionally unattractive, it is a stunning transformation from her previous role of Erica Albright in The Social Network. It is also in her quiet, reserved performance that the red herring lies, for when she explodes with violent retribution, she is frightening; any concern one may have about her ability to be intimidating is quickly dispelled.
With all this technical mastery, the story is left looking a little pale, and in fact if there is any big criticism of the piece, it would be that in the process of adapting the book, the plot becomes a little too standard for your usual Fincher outing. Whilst remaining faithful to a lot of the novel’s plot points (was very happy to see the sweet cat turn up in this version), Steven Zaillian also manages to strip away a fair amount of the politics and intricacies of Sweden’s culture that so clearly concerned Larsson.
Of course, if one has not read the book this will not matter, because what we have here is a slick, stylish, dark Fincher thriller that works as well as I had hoped, but fans of the book do need to go in knowing that, as loyal as it is for the most part, it remains arguably less meaty than the original text. What was never going to be removed was the sexual violence, Fincher’s handling of which is perfect. He has somehow found a way of showing us less, yet making us feel more; he feels no need to leer over what is happening, and yet we still feel the need to be out of there as quickly as possible. On another note, there has been some talk about the final half hour overstaying its welcome, but I argue this is not the case. It foreshadows a potential sequel subtly but enough, and explores an entire story thread that the original tried to squeeze into a five minute epilogue; the whole thing makes a lot more sense.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a technical tour-de-force, perhaps lacking in complexity when compared to Se7en, and not being quite as well paced as Zodiac, but nevertheless definitely award-courting, and undeniably Fincher. If this is your first time experiencing the story, you can add a start to my rating!
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