The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a prime example of why you should pay attention to the messages a given movie is trying to send before heading into a theater. This is a film that is based upon a deeply disturbing series of books that spawned a deeply disturbing series of foreign films and which features the tagline, “The feel bad movie of Christmas.” If you read between the lines here, I believe you should be able to make an educated guess as to the kind of movie this really is.
Following an edgy and utterly mesmerising title sequence set to Trent Reznor’s rip of Led Zeppelin’s ‘The Immigrant Song’, the movie begins with Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) as a journalist whose career appears to be over. After publishing a scathing expose on a powerful Swedish businessman, Blomkvist is sued and is found guilty, a finding that will cost him his life savings, his reputation, and a short prison sentence. At a loss for what to do next, Blomkvist takes a meeting with Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), an aging but prominent corporate leader. Vanger promises to give Blomkvist the evidence he needs to clear his name and in exchange, Blomkvist will attempt to solve a mystery that has vexed the old man for 40 years: the murder of Harriet, Vanger’s niece and favorite family member who went missing at the age of 16. With the help of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a socially stunted but immensely valuable private investigator, Blomkvist soon finds himself embroiled in a vast and complex cover up that threatens to consume every aspect of his life.
Dragon Tattoo is about as raw as it gets for a mainstream movie. If you can get past the cringe factor, Dragon Tattoo is a quality film with some stunning sequences. Director David Fincher put together a fantastic cast filled with actors who fit their roles perfectly. Led by Craig’s usual calm and understated demeanor, the performances within this film are strong to quite strong, though none compare to the work of Rooney. I don’t think this is an Oscar-caliber portrayal but it is certainly one that will move her to the top of the list. And as always with a Fincher film, the technical aspects of Dragon Tattoo are exquisite. From the score to the shot selection, this is barely a step down from The Social Network, which was nearly perfect from a behind-the-camera standpoint. Fincher uses every element in his armory, heightening the intensity here, providing subtle detail there. Fincher is the master of creating imperceptible tension within each audience member, building it until you suddenly realize that you’re sitting on the edge of your seat and your heart is pounding.
Fincher evokes empathy from his audience for Lisbeth. How does one identify with a teenage girl who lives on Happy Meals and caffeine and wears a T-shirt that reads “F**k You, You F**king F**k”? But beyond her tough-girl appearance, Fincher guides Mara to tone down her character’s instinctive nature and draw out Lisbeth’s vulnerabilities. There is a fragility to Mara’s spellbinding portrayal of Lisbeth that is missing from Noomi Rapace’s in the original, so even though Mara doesn’t succeed in topping Rapace’s star-making turn, she too disappears just as convincingly into the role.
Despite the almost two-and-a-half-hour duration, you’ll find yourself hooked the entire time, unable to pull yourself away from the arrestingly intense atmosphere permeating the whole movie. Assembling once again his ‘Social Network’ team- made up of composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, as well as editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall- Fincher uses their considerable talents to construct a sense of forebodingness with a haunting score and evocative cinematography of the frosty Scandinavian landscape.
It is, without a doubt, one of the most exhilarating viewing experiences I have had this year.