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-