With Christmas concluding and New Years approaching, no doubt a lot of you will be out and about shopping, or spending time with family, or maybe going to the movies. I recently did the latter, going to go see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, part one of the late Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, is one of the post critically acclaimed novels of the last decade, one of the most brilliant mystery novels in recent memory, and in a decade where the most of the popular novels either involved tales of child wizards, child-loving vampires, or various thrillers that made controversy by incorporating Jesus, the series has provided one of the rare original series’ to provide a clever and creative narrative, and will likely be read long after people have forgotten many of its contemporaries. Already, the series has been adapted into a critically and commercially successful film trilogy in Larsson’s native Sweden, so it’s not really that shocking Hollywood decided to get a slice of the pie, and give Dragon Tatoo the blockbuster treatment.
What is (pleasantly) shocking about the Hollywood adaption however, is the amount of care and effort being put into adapting the novel to film. The film was handed to director David Fincher, who has a past of solid dark thrillers under his belt, and the script penned by famed screenwriter Steven Zaillian. For the cast, A-listers like George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Scarlett Johansson were passed over in favor of a talented and stellar cast that includes Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer and Stellan Skarsgard, and the leading lady is played by relative newcomer Rooney Mara. Somehow, they even managed to resist localizing or Americanizing the original story, keeping it set in Sweden and many of the themes are kept in place. If the movie could take advantage of all of its potential, it has a shot to be one of the years best films easily, so I had high hopes for the film as I walked into the theater.
So does Girl with the Dragon Tattoo live up to its potential, or is this a tattoo that will leave you with a few scars and an embarrassing story? Read on my dear readers, this is my review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Like the book, the film follows investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist, who in the aftermath of a libel suit, is left nearly penniless, and the magazine he co-owns and writes for nearly bankrupt. So out of necessity more then anything else, he accepts a job offer from Henrik Vanger, former CEO of Vanger Industries and patriarch of the eccentric and isolated Vanger family. Officially, his job is to write Henrik’s memoirs, but unofficially, he is to investigate the death of his beloved grand-niece Harriet, whom Henrik believes was murdered by a member of the family. Should Mikael uncover Harriet’s fate, not only will his pay be quadrupled, but Henrik will give Mikael access to information about the man who sued him into this quandary, Hans-Erik Wennerström, that could see him ruined. Against this, we see gothic hacker and data miner Lisbeth Salander go about some struggles and hardships in her own life, until Mikael offers her the chance to help his investigation. Together, the two will uncover over a half-century of dark intrigues, betrayals and killings, and do their best not to see themselves the latest victims caught in that web.
While the movie has a slow start, it really picks up after the set up, and kicks into high gear once Mikael and Lisbeth pair up. Yet even in the slow parts of the film, the story is never dull, and if anything, the pacing draws you deeper into the story to the point you’re more effected by some of the happenings on screen. The plot manages to be deep and complex without over doing it like all too many aspiring ‘smart’ films tend to these days. In addition the dialogue is quite sharp providing a lot of the films laughs (as does a shirt worn by Lisbeth that I want badly now – you’ll know it when you see it), and as a whole, the humor is very effective, providing some light in an otherwise dark film. If there is any complaint to be had, some of the scenes are VERY brutal and graphic, and a couple of scenes left me squirming uncomfortably in my seat, and coming from me, that should mean something. However, it is never bad enough to derail the story of this top notch mystery.
Of course, a huge part of what made the story as compelling as it was happened to be the string of sterling performances of the movies cast. It comes with little surprise that film legends Christopher Plummer and Steven Berkoff, in their performances as Henrik Vanger and Dirch Frode respectively, both manage to give captivating performances, as does Stellan Skarsgard as Martin Vanger. Daniel Craig continues to show of his increasingly diverse acting chops, giving a compelling performance as Mikael Blomkvist, and the characters motivations and drive are clear in every scene.
Of course, it comes with some surprise that, with all of the talented performances in the movie, the best comes from Rooney Mara, whose performance as Lisbeth Salander steals the scene whenever she is present. There is a power in the performance, one that leaves you wonder who is the Holmes in the Watson and Holmes partnership between her and Craig’s Blomkvist, and there is an undeniable chemistry between the two, in several ways. Mara turned Lisbeth into one of the most interesting female characters I’ve seen at the cinema in some time, one of the best performances I’ve seen all year, and one entirely deserving of an Oscar nod, if not the Oscar itself come next February.
Going hand in hand with the superb acting and story is Fincher’s incredible skill in the directors chair. While it may be easy to forget with his recent penchant for making forgettable Oscar-bait or anti-Internet propaganda, Fincher has helmed some of the finest and most powerful thrillers of the last twenty years, including classics like Seven and Fight Club, and he is back to his true form here. Not many other directors could have pulled off some of the films more brutal scenes, the dour atmosphere and mood, and tackled the subject of a demented serial killer, and yet still made a deeply entertaining and captivating film. Just like Ms, Mara, I hope David Fincher has another Oscar waiting for him next year, he certainly deserves it a lot more then the one he got this year for The Social Network.
Overall, it should go without saying that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was, in every way, one of the best films of the year. The story pulls you in, and in spite of subject matter and scene content, manages to be an entertaining crime drama that keeps you guessing and keeps you on the edge of your seat. The cast as a whole gives one of the year’s best performances, with Rooney Mara in particular blowing me away with her portrayal of the titular dragon tattooed girl. The movie itself has a mood very different then a lot of the films this year, and the opening credits alone are worth seeing for the punk cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’. This film is a must-see, and there haven’t been many of those this year, so I recommend it highly.