Let’s put aside the fact that David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is based on a book in the ever so popular “Millennium Trilogy” by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson (and that all three books have been adapted into Swedish language films) and examine Fincher’s latest work as a stand-alone movie. It’s a cold, bleak, sometimes disturbing exercise in filmmaking. There’s a sense of dread mounting in every scene. The electronic score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross pulsates through each frame, hammering and drilling into your consciousness.
It takes place in Sweden, which means dark rainy days and snowstorms. The central mystery lies buried within the Vanger Family, a powerful Swedish syndicate that owns a major corporation. A family member named Harriet was murdered at sixteen and the solution to her murder has been left unsolved for forty years.
Still on a high from last year’s critically acclaimed “The Social Network,” Fincher is back in a somewhat familiar groove with his slick direction and the screenplay’s quick dialogue. His “Social Network” producer Scott Ruden is back, as well as composers Reznor and Ross and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, who photographs the picture in dim unwelcoming colors. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” isn’t better than “The Social Network,” mainly because its premise is more routine and formulaic compared to the founding of Facebook. However, Fincher’s new film is still a compelling and expertly made murder mystery.
Daniel Craig stars as Mikael Blomkvist, the editor of Millennium Magazine, who has just been sued successfully for libel for an article he wrote. He’s disgraced and doesn’t know what to do, until he meets Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer, in a witty yet sinister performance) who enlists him to write a biography on him and the Vanger Corporation, while secretly enlisting him to solve Harriet’s murder.
Meanwhile we have Lisbeth Salander (a hardly recognizable Rooney Mara), the underdog of the story and who the title is named after. She is short and skinny, wears baggy cloths, and sports a Mohawk. Her body is lined with piercings and tattoos. She’s, as someone describes her at the beginning, “different.” She lacks social skills and unfortunately she gets taken advantage of sexually. The scenes between her and a sadistic social worker are among the most intense and will make you shiver.
But she’s resilient nonetheless, she can take care of herself and wants to remain under the radar. The scene where she gives that Social Worker comeuppance gives you the kind of raw satisfaction you get from vigilante movies. Salander is also a damn good hacker; one of the best, and watching her at her computer, decrypting documents and breaking into emails, is just as exciting to watch as it was seeing Mark Zuckerberg do it.
For most of the film Lis and Mikael remain separated. Mikael working diligently on the case, digging himself deeper into the corruption and danger of the Vanger family, a place he’s not wanted. Not by fellow Vanger relatives Anita (Joely Richardson) or Martin (an ice cold Stellan Skarsgard). While Lis tends to her daily hacker jobs as well as her daily struggles to get money and food. Movies that do a lot of jumping back and forth have a tendency to get a little exhausting after a while but Fincher’s stylistically smart direction gives ample time for both of them, never stopping dead on one of them for a long time. And with the movie being 158 minutes he keeps it moving along.
It also helps to have a well-structured, meaty screenplay by Steven Zallian. Much like Aaron Sorkin’s script for “The Social Network,” Zallian’s is filled with rapid-fire dialogue that’s informative as well as entertaining. And for how dark the movie is Zallian finds comical moments to ease the tension.
When Mikael and Lis finally do unite (Mikael needs a research assistant) the movie is at its finest. Daniel Craig has a stern ruggedness that’s fitting for the role. He’s also a bit of a woman’s charmer as he was as James Bond but at the same time he looks washed-up and defeated, and Craig conveys that sense of shame perfectly. Rooney Mara, who was Mark Zuckerberg’s girlfriend in “ Social Network,” works hard, plunging herself into the broken down character of Lis Salander. Together the two play off each other wonderfully. Mikael’s personable, reporter mentality vs. Salander’s lack of sociability and untrusting of other people.
I haven’t read Larsson’s book yet. I didn’t rush out and speed read through it in preparation for this movie. I find that by doing that it can cloud your judgment of the movie. Sometimes we tend to hold the film to a certain standard that only a book can achieve. From what I’ve heard this film doesn’t stray too far away from the book, except for a couple things near the end. Speaking strictly of the film it does run a little long, especially at the end and compared to the foreign version there’s not a lot of difference. Even so, Fincher has crafted a fine movie with a strong, complex protagonist that we can both feel sorry for and root for.