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Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The (2011)
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by Brett Gallman

"Mr. Fincher's latest opus is a familiar tune--but that's okay."
5 stars

Despite being another adaptation of a novel that was committed to film only a few years ago, “The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo” is unmistakably a David Fincher film. That we can easily sense this within minutes speaks to his auteurism; though he’s never written any of his own scripts, there’s little doubt that his films are unmistakably his; we feel his touch in the gorgeously mounted productions that are often at odds with their grungy content and in the thematic undercurrents of obsession and lechery that often follow his protagonists. In this second go-round with Steig Larsson’s novel, Fincher has found a sort of culmination of just about anything that’s seemed interesting to him during his career. It’s perhaps a bit perfunctory, being well worn ground for both Fincher and audiences that already saw or read this material, which sometimes makes it feel like cinematic calisthenics, as if Fincher is showing off just how well-trained his muscle reflexes are when dealing with the most disgusting corners of humanity.

But in other ways, this feels like Fincher’s opus since the material feels like it was made for him. In this case, the disgusting corner of the globe is still Sweden (as it was in the novel), where we find recently-shamed investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) summoned to solve a decades-old murder case. Henrik Vagner insists that his niece, Harriet, was murdered by one of his own family members 36 years ago and sees Blomkvist as a last-ditch effort to gain resolution; as the journalist burrows deeper into the case, he enlists the help of hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), the borderline psychotic ward of the state who actually performed a background check on him for Vagner.

Though the two are eventually tethered, a good portion of the film finds them apart, with the separate stories acting as concurrent movements in an overture, steadily gaining rhythm to the beat of similar motifs (violent misogyny being chief among them). Fincher draws you in slowly, as these threads unravel with subtle pulsations (not unlike Reznor & Ross’s understated, techno-hum score, which blends in perfectly with a diegetic floor buffer at one point). They’re occasionally punctuated by notes of violence, particularly when Lisbeth is tormented and raped by her new caretaker, which produces the blood-curdling effect you’d expected.

When these two movement finally converge and the film finds its pulse, it’s rather incredible. This comes when you’d expect it to--upon the meeting of Mikael and Lisbeth, where the sparks don’t fly so much as they smolder. Indeed, this generally isn’t a film where the sparks fly; instead, there’s a beautiful, hypnotic rhythm to the proceedings. The fantastic scene where the two finally begin piecing together the puzzle is almost lyrical; exposition of this sort typically doesn’t feel as kinetic as it does here, as we can feel the momentum carrying us to that absolute moment of crisis. This is a thriller that’s only thrilling when it needs to be: at that climactic moment where all the secrets are revealed.

There’s an easy litmus test with the effectiveness of “Dragon Tattoo” here; as with any mystery or thriller where the ending is already known (which is the case here if you’re familiar with the source material), the potency of these moments will remain despite the familiarity. A boiling, almost uncomfortable intensity accompanies the film’s most powerful moments--Lisbeth’s rape and subsequent revenge, Mikael’s horrifying encounter with Harriet’s supposed killer, etc.

This is due not only to Fincher’s hypnotic, alluring approach, but also the performances. Rooney Mara is as dazzling as advertised, as she almost dares you to look away when she’s on screen. Her performance is a remarkable transformation from a purely physical standpoint; molded into a fierce, pierced cyberpunk, she’s a far cry from the sweet (but tough) girl she was just a year ago in “The Social Network.” Before we even see her face, we can feel her seething rage; as we see more of her, we find a girl that’s just that--a girl. While I liked Noomi Rapace’s take on the character, she was sometimes almost too mature and assured. By contrast, Mara brings a vulnerability to the role that’s felt in every terse word and robotic gestures; she never says or does more than she has to, a clever character tic that’s realized with cool efficiency by Mara. At times, this produces bravado on her part, but beneath that aggressiveness is a distinct hint at trepidation.

As she is the title character, it does eventually become her story; while Fincher is too deft to spell it out, her role in tracking down a killer of women is cathartic for her, and the relationship she develops with Mikael is the ultimate leap of faith for a girl who’s remained recoiled like a cobra towards the opposite sex her entire life. On the other hand, Mikael is sullen like so many of Craig’s characters are, but we see his humanity painted in broad strokes, such as in the interactions he has with a cat that takes refuge with him. He’s not completely humorless either, nor is the film, which could have easily become a lugubrious detective procedural. This fate is avoided thanks to the fascinating bond that develops between the two leads; Fincher has always treaded on the boundaries of film noir, and he retraces his steps there with Mikael and Lisbeth. She feels like a “dark woman,” but that’s a bit too reductive; she certainly has her secrets and helps Mikael move deeper down a dark rabbit hole, but, as is the case with much of the film, this is clever misdirection.

Truthfully, the “dark woman” here is Harriet (which somewhat deftly ties in with Lisbeth’s bisexuality), as this case peaks in a dark night of the soul for each. They just happen to come on different nights, and the film leaves us in an odd, somewhat problematic place that squarely re-centers this as Lisbeth’s story. For all of her motor-biking and globe-hopping that make her out as an action hero, she’s still remarkably frail and wounded at the end of it all.

Up until that moment, there’s an almost horrifying detachment to it all; this would often be a criticism, but Fincher has consistently employed such detachment for his ends and does the same here. Just as the film feels like it’s about to thaw and let us in emotionally (a position that obviously mirrors Lisbeth’s at the time), it jerks us back and tosses cold water on us with a surprisingly gut-wrenching sucker punch. Somehow, the film’s saddest moment comes not in the incestual rape or the casual, ritualistic murders; instead, it comes in the loneliness of a back alley, where a girl has been casually discarded in a metaphorical sense.

“The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo” is an astonishing bit of polishing by Fincher in more ways than one. Larsson’s novel is rather sprawling and relies on heavy exposition; screenwriter Steven Zaillian has distilled it and provided a few nips and tucks to the original film’s screenplay. It sometimes feels like it should be messier than it ends up being; Fincher’s work often reminds me of a baroque painting whose Byzantine styling reveals both flourishes and restrained precision. And “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is a portrait of precision and a marvel to behold, capturing a kind of heightened reality. Fincher often presents a world that feels realistic, or, to borrow an overused buzz word, “gritty.” Such a reduction misses out on the overt, distinctive style that makes this a handsome movie about some of the ugliest material you’ll ever see.

There’s probably going to be some question as to how “necessary” this was; truthfully, it often does feel like an exercise on Fincher’s part to prove that he can elevate an already great film into an even better one. However, there’s no denying that Fincher is keenly interested in doing just that, and he succeeds--his “Tattoo” brims with much more cinematic bravado, from the performances to the production design itself. It’s a retread that never feels redundant, if only for some of the extra-textual excitement it brings, such as the discovery of a new star in Mara, or the promise of further sequels in this series.

Maybe this is just the equivalent of a cool-down session in Fincher’s routine in terms of placement; if “Seven” was the overture and “Zodiac” the crescendo, then “Dragon Tattoo” is the haunting medley as the movement ends, a cold but searing dirge delivered by the exacting hands of a maestro wringing out every note with a measured ease.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=21277&reviewer=429
originally posted: 12/21/11 05:21:56
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User Comments

8/25/18 Joely Richards Rooney Mara was great. Her anal-rape scene inspired me to try anal sex with my college bf. 5 stars
9/12/17 morris campbell good but grim 4 stars
5/27/13 Luisa slow paced but deliciously graphic and entertaining 3 stars
9/03/12 Courtney Amazing cinematography and soundtrack. Another masterfully done movie by Fincher. 5 stars
4/20/12 mr.mike Well done , Fincher is an A-1 director. 4 stars
4/06/12 The Taitor Very good acting, plenty of suspense, drama, and surprises 4 stars
3/25/12 Fazon Sheriff Technically astute, competently structured, well acted and very engaging 4 stars
3/23/12 Les S. Disturbingly interesting but not as well crafted as the book itself. 3 stars
3/19/12 Millie Maelstrom Lisbeth Salander is hardly any more heroic than Hannibal Lecter and WAY less fascinating. 1 stars
2/19/12 Girl with the draggin' Snafu Proof + that neither the Christianization nor Gothicization of Scandinavia were good things 1 stars
2/14/12 jc rooney mara is indeed the lisbeth salander that i've imagined. the film! a must-see movie! 4 stars
2/06/12 KingNeutron Very hard to follow if you havent read the book- 3rd star is for Rooney's performance 3 stars
1/28/12 M Predictable, without the disturbinmg scenes this would be a bore 2 stars
1/24/12 Devin Sabas the stars of this movie are fincher and the score. i liked it 4 stars
1/12/12 Donald Hallett this movie was at no point entertaining , not worth the time it took to watch 1 stars
1/01/12 Smitty Noomi Repace made Rooney Mara look like Bambi in comparison. See the original. 3 stars
12/25/11 cooler watch the original instead 1 stars
12/23/11 Rob Riveting ! 5 stars
12/22/11 JW Great visual storytelling but, like the 2009 film, the problem seems to be the book itself! 3 stars
12/22/11 Bob Dog Skip the US remake and watch the 2009 original. 2 stars
12/20/11 Stacie Clark disturbing, but excellent 5 stars
12/20/11 Andy This is just as good as the Swedish version. A well make film 5 stars
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  21-Dec-2011 (R)
  DVD: 20-Mar-2012

  26-Dec-2011 (18)

  21-Dec-2011 (MA)
  DVD: 20-Mar-2012

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