Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Expectations are deadly, and hype is killer. You can try to tone it down and forget what you know, but no matter your level of denial, if you’ve seen the Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, you’re bound to compare it to David Fincher’s new undertaking.

Many didn’t see the Noomi Rapace-starring original but many have read Stieg Larsson’s impossibly popular novel on which it is based. Me? I saw the original film last year, then read the book. Then I saw the other two films and left their respective novels unread. So basically, my knowledge of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a scattered mindfuck that I can’t exactly articulate into coherent sentences.  Lucky for me (and for you) Fincher’s new flick lays it all out in a way that is sleek, daring and ungodly refreshing.

Necessary plot explanation: the film tells the story of shamed journalist Mikael Blomkvist, who after being convicted for libeling a crooked businessman, is hired by the head of the incredibly wealthy Vanger family to find out who killed a young Vanger girl 40 years ago. During this, the film cross-cuts Blomkvist’s story with Lisbeth Salander’s, a goth punk badass hacker with a photographic memory and zero tolerance for bullshit. Soon enough, through a set of unusual circumstances, Blomkvist and Salander are working together on the Vanger case, and we’re off and running.

The plot, while easy enough to crudely summarize in a paragraph, is maddeningly intricate. There are dozens of Vanger family members to keep track of, and limitless names to recall, not too mention the Blomkvist/Salander storylines to pull apart. So instead of picking and prodding, let’s get to the good stuff, shall we?
David Fincher, once again, has pulled off a bit of a miracle. He’s made the serial killer film interesting again (twice), made computer coding and depositions enthralling, and now he takes a beloved piece of modern literature and puts his own unique stamp of brilliance on it. The result is a film that is perfectly in tune in look, feel, sound, design; you name it. Much like his seamless Social Network (aka, the movie that should’ve won him a Best Director Oscar), The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is appropriately dark yet undeniably alive.

You can credit much of this to Daniel Craig, who, as Blomkvist, is as good as he’s ever been – like James Bond, minus the attitude, and real. But honestly, Larsson’s material is for (and propelled by) Lisbeth, and goddamn if Rooney Mara doesn’t deliver.  What Mara does here is, in a word, revelatory. Aside from her three brief, vivid scenes in The Social Network, Mara’s filmography has been limited to girl-next-door sidekicks, which she should now feel free to give a middle finger to, as her career is about to drastically change.

Last year, I boldly said that Noomi Rapace’s portrayal of Lisbeth Salander was the best female acting performance of the year. (To be fair, Rapace was afforded to flesh Lisbeth out over three films, but looking only at the first film, I stand by my statement.) Needless to say, I didn’t think Mara could pull it off.  And, in a way, she doesn’t.  Mara isn’t impersonating Rapace’s performance, she’s putting her own spin on it. There are a lot of similarities between the two but, like the movies themselves, there are radical differences that make them stand apart.
One in particular that I found most welcoming in Fincher’s version was the subtle, gentle kinship that forms between Craig’s Blomkvist and Mara’s Salander. This would fail miserably if the actors’ chemistry wasn’t as flawless as it is, so to say their work together merely succeeds is one of the grandest understatements in movies released this year.

If you’re completely new to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (and oh how lucky you are), then know that this is a rough film based on rough material. The film's tagline, “The Feel Bad Movie of Christmas,” is accurate. We’re dealing with some seedy, deranged people who live disturbed lives. Many may not like the film’s ending (I’m not sure how I feel about it either), but if Fincher gets what he wants and is able to create two sequels, then we’re looking at one hell of an intensely sinister franchise, anchored by a ferocious leading lady, who may, by the end of this, prove to be as good as they get. A-


  1. Great review, as always!I will have to wait until January, but I know I am going to like it, Fincher is amazing and I love his movies!Plus, I read the first novel,which I liked,and I have the sweedish movie but I didn't see it, yet! What should I watch first, the american or the sweedish version?

  2. I've been reading some rather mixed reviews of this one, but if you like it then I'll take your word for it. I am soooo excited to see Fincher's spin on it, and would not be interested if it had been any other American director, so this looks good.

  3. @Aziza I'd watch the American version first, only because Fincher is Fincher, and to have one of his films spoiled would be a great sin

  4. @Tyler I completely agree with you, when I heard they were remaking it, I was pissed. When I heard Fincher was doing it, I was intrigued. It isn't his most accomplished film (Se7en and Zodiac are better, and maybe The Social Network) but it is a damn fine film

  5. Not sure if you read my review ... but I didn't quite care for it.

    Mara is fantastic - no denying. But I found the first hour or so to be tame and dull.

    Exposition isn't the problem - it's the way Fincher quickly glosses over plot points - making it next to impossible to go along on the investigation.

    We can talk more later.

  6. @Sam Fragoso Funny you should say that. When I saw the Swedish version, I was so incredibly bored during the first hour (likewise the first 270 pages of the book), but once it picked up, I was hooked.

    I actually think Fincher did a lot better than the Swedish film at detailing the plot. Valid point, but I think the opening lag is the fault of the material, not the filmmakers.

  7. I can't wait to see this movie, I'm glad to read it's good - I keep listening to the soundtrack, it's so amazing. I'm not a big fan of the original - the story was amazing, but the execution wasn't the best.

  8. @Sati. I'll be really interested to read what you think about this version. Something tells me that if you didn't like the Swedish version, then you'll dig this one. Maybe.

  9. And what if I liked Swedish version? Do you think I will still like this one? And I have my doubts about gentle kinship between Bonquist and Salander that you talk about, because in my opinion that is what second movie is for. But, I will still watch it for Fincher though.

  10. @SDG Let me put it this way: I liked the original and I really liked this version. If you enjoy the material, you can enjoy both films. But they aren't mutually exclusive. They are very different interpretations of the same material. Except Fincher's is much darker.

  11. Great review. I agree about Mara. I liked her sister Kate, but now that I've seen this film, plus the fact that Kate had been creepy and annoying (an understatement) in American Horror Story I much prefer Rooney.

    It's interesting that the original film showed Lisbeth visiting Blomkvist in prison and they left that out of this remake and they also show Blomkvist breaking Lisbeth's heart in this new film. I think Lisbeth is much more disconnected from Blomkvist in the original and portrayed as superior (visits him while he's powerless in jail and doesn't get her heart broken). I'm rambling.

    Again, great review!

  12. @Robert Thanks man! One of the things I found odd was that in Fincher's version, Blomkvist wasn't even sentenced to jail. I think there was even a line to the effect of, "Well at least it's only a fine; no jail time."

    At any rate, I think the dynamic (both in story and execution) was better between Craig and Mara, for sure.

  13. Very nice! Interested to see if I agree about the actresses. Thanks!

  14. He might have given unnaturally overhyped Se7en and "Social Network"...But this one s truly amazing....
    Definitely,a collector's item

  15. @yaykisspurr Send me the link when you right your review, and thanks for stopping by!

  16. @Naya Saal You thought Se7en was overhyped? I dunno, that's definitely one of my favorite flicks, but at any rate, I'm glad we both liked this one.

  17. Awesome book.Really enjoyed it..!!!

    1. I've only read the first one, do you like the others as well?