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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

So yes this is the THIRD article on Faceplant that deals with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I reviewed the book a while back, and Enosh recently reviewed the Swedish film.  Here I will be discussing the musical version on ice that is currently taking America by storm.  Ok that isn’t true, but there IS another film that just came out that deserves some attention.  I have a much higher opinion of the Swedish film than Enosh does, so much so that when the American version of Dragon Tattoo was first announced my reaction was “damn it, WHY!”.  Well, the answer to that question is two words and sealed the deal on me paying some ducats to go see this movie:  David Fincher.  He made “the Facebook movie” (Social Network) one of the best I’ve seen in recent memory.  He’s the director of my favorite movie ever, Se7en.  The subject matter here is right up his alley.  I had high expectations for this film, which I am glad to say were mostly met.

Dragon Tattoo is basically a murder mystery.  Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who was just convicted of libel against a prominent Swedish businessman.  As such, he’s taking some time off work at his magazine called Millenium, and is definitely in the market for a lucrative paying freelance job, given the settlement he now owes.  Enter Christopher Plummer as Henrik Vanger.  An old businessman himself, Vanger hires Blomkvist to investigate the murder of his niece, who vanished from the island the Vangers own thirty something odd years ago.  It’s haunted the now old Henrik since it happened, and he wants Blomkkvist’s keen investigative eye to take a fresh look at the case.

Through a series of events I won’t reveal here, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) ends up helping to solve the mystery.  Yes, I managed to go two paragraphs without mentioning her.  She is the reason the books have become as popular as they did, spawning four films so far and most likely six.  Salander is brilliant.  Photographic memory, genius level computer skills, and much tougher than her small stature would indicate.  But she’s also damaged, from a past that we only get snippets of here, and it’s to the point that “normal” interactions with others don’t happen very often for her.  Although whether she even wants them too is debatable.  The film is named after Lisbeth, the marketing is based on her, the success of this whole franchise is owed to this character….and she is not the best part of this movie.

Rooney Mara in The Social Network....

Rooney Mara is excellent.  The relative unknown Mara caught Fincher’s eye from her small role in The Social Network and it’s clear he correctly saw enormous talent.  I buy her as Lisbeth to the point where the cute girl who outwitted Zuckerberg at the start of Social Network is a distant memory.  She’s a completely different person.  I gave this same compliment to the late Heath Ledger about Dark Knight and I say it again here.  If I didn’t know before hand that Rooney Mara was the actress portraying Lisbeth and I ignored the credits at the end, I would have left the theater with no idea who played her.  With all of that being said, I believe that Noomi Rapace gave a stronger performance of the character in the Swedish film.  Rapace’s Salander seemed not quite as forced and more human.  Mara seems on the verge of exploding at EVERY point she’s on-screen in this version.  It’s a high tension quality, but even the books had legitimate moments of Lisbeth calming down or having some moment of happiness, despite the bleak situation.  Rapace equaled the Mara’s rage when the time called for it (which in this film was…most of the time) but completely nailed her small but significant softer side.  Mara lagged behind slightly in that regard.

Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Wow?

The stand out of this film for me was Daniel Craig Blomkvist.  This was not a role akin to James Bond.  Mikael is not an action hero, the battles he fights are won through quick thinking, research skills, and charisma.  I completely bought that this character is an excellent journalist.  His interactions with of the other characters, both large roles and small, gave off a quiet strength that fits perfectly with the Mikael I envisioned from the books.  In particular, my favorite scene from the book and now both movies, he knocked out of the park.  It’s not very spoilery so I will say the first time he and Lisbeth meet in person was both incredibly well done and very important.  Lisbeth doesn’t work with ANYONE, so that this meeting results in her teaming up with Mikael makes those few minutes he has to make a first impression on her quite meaningful.  Craig makes that unlikely partnership believable.

If somebody tried to give James Bond the sweater Daniel Craig is wearing here, Bond would probably shoot them.

David Fincher is in top form here as well.  This film is dark, literally.  The snowy and oppressive winter of Sweden is used to full effect.  The island of Hedestad is practically its own character.  As more and more of the mystery is unearthed by Mikael and Lisbeth, the tension rises and the island seems to get smaller and smaller.  Some of the most brutal parts of the movie, specifically the much discussed rape scene, take place in small spaces.  I give Fincher and the cinematographer credit for creating at atmosphere that the book so painstakingly described.

This version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the best.  With all due to respect to the Swedish film, which again I love, Fincher’s version creates the sense of tension and dread that the other film just couldn’t quite capture.  The acting of the ancillary characters (most notably Christopher Plummer and Stellen Skarsgard) exceed the original.  Fincher has proven that he’s a master of dark and disturbing material, and no mainstream creative work has both of those like Dragon Tattoo.  Fincher and this material are a perfect match.

With amazing respect given to Rooney Mara, when I think of Lisbeth Salander, it's this. Rock on Noomi Rapace.

I’ll end with saying that the soundtrack, by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, is of very high quality. I bring this up basically as an excuse to link to the actual opening credits of the movie, which is an absolutely wicked cover of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song.  Even the visuals had a bunch of small references to the whole trilogy, fantastic job.  I don’t care how many more Bond movies Daniel Craig makes, this is the best opening song/credits he will ever have.

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