- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by David Medsker
inephiles and Stieg Larsson fans can hold their noses all they want at the idea of an American remaking the 2009 Swedish thriller “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” but they really should be thanking their lucky stars that it landed where it did. David Fincher was born to make this movie, and his take on the material is exactly what one would expect; faithful to the source material, with much better production value. It’s worth seeing for a number of reasons (Rooney Mara, wow), but the title sequence alone is the single coolest thing you will see at the movies all year.
Journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) has just lost a libel lawsuit at the hands of industrialist bully Hans-Erik Wennerstrom (Ulf Friberg), which has drained his bank account and destroyed his reputation. Mikael is surprised, then, when Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), the retired CEO of Vanger Industries, offers Mikael a hefty sum to write his memoirs, though what he really wants Mikael to do is solve a decades-old mystery surrounding the murder of his niece Harriet. Mikael takes the job and moves into a cottage on a small family-owned island where the entire surviving family lives but rarely communicates. As Mikael begins sifting through records and personal effects, he realizes that he needs an assistant, so he hires Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), the investigator hired to investigate Mikael on behalf of the Vangers before they offered him the job. Lisbeth is what one would diplomatically describe as damaged; still a ward of the state at 23, she has a genius mind but is an emotional time bomb. Her new legal guardian, whom she needs to please in order to gain access to her money, takes advantage of his position of authority. Fool.
For the first half of the movie, Mikael and Lisbeth’s stories play out side by side. It’s a great plotting maneuver, since it allows Mikael the chance to follow the trail as far as he can go on his own before he requires more resources, and it allows the audience to get to know Lisbeth’s life in all its fucked-up glory. As you might imagine, the movie takes off when the two finally share some screen time together, but the first half is just as fascinating, in a different way. There are few, if any, heroines like Lisbeth Salander in the literary world, and Stieg Larsson knew that to rush the reader through the horror of her life would be fatal.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen the version of this story that Niels Arden Opey made in 2009, but my memory tells me that the two films are largely similar, with slightly different endings. Also, the American version of the movie proves that sometimes outspending your competition will get you ahead; while the original movie was well done, Fincher’s take on the material is gorgeous, filled with a vast array of color palettes from shot to shot. Fans of his work as a director of music videos will even see callbacks in the scenes where Mikael’s editor-in-chief Erika (Robin Wright) is in silhouette, a technique Fincher used to chilling effect in Madonna’s “Oh Father.”
I shredded Rooney Mara for being flat as a pancake in the remake of “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” but she commits to this role in a way that few actresses have ever committed to anything in their lives. Lisbeth is constantly struggling to maintain her composure, and Mara displays that in every terse reply and her refusal to make eye contact. The role launched Noomi Rapace, the original Lisbeth, to a new level of stardom, and it will do the same for Mara. Daniel Craig, meanwhile, has it easy; he gets to kiss Mara and Wright, while doing most of his scenes in front of a laptop. Having said that, he was a good choice for Mikael – the movie demands a commanding presence opposite Lisbeth, and Craig has it. The rest of the actors are chess pieces, really, but they all play their parts well. Steven Zaillian’s script is snappy but grounded, while Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross come up with another engrossing score for Fincher, understandably upping the creep factor from their work in “The Social Network.” Bonus points for the Gothic cover of Bryan Ferry’s “Is Your Love Strong Enough?” that plays over the closing credits.
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is cold and disturbing yet empowering at the same time. It may seem an odd movie to release the week before Christmas, but we’re not complaining; this has been a pretty mediocre year for movies, so we’ll take good wherever we can find it.