David Fincher’s Stunning ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’

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CHICAGO – David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” comes with waves of expectations from fans of the Stieg Larsson books, the Swedish original films, the director’s previous beloved works, and even drama over a certain national outlet breaking an agreed-upon embargo. Could it possibly live up to the hype? If you can let it go and just appreciate the film for what it is — absolutely. Fincher proves yet again that he needs to be near the top of any conversation of the best working directors, streamlining this admittedly-still-flawed source material and making a brutal thriller that is quite simply the best possible film that could be made from it.

Every decision made here, from how the novel was refined to the controversial casting of Rooney Mara to one of the best technical teams of the year was the right one. The hype has resulted in a few predictable reviews suggesting that the film doesn’t live up to it. Nonsense. This is a work that will be recognized as brilliant the further it gets away from the storm surrounding its release. In ten years, no critic will admit to any issues with it upon its initial release.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Photo credit: Sony Pictures

Mikael Blomkvist (a perfectly world-weary Daniel Craig) is going through a career crisis. In what could be called the prologue to the action of the film, Mikael is forced to step down from his position at Millennium Magazine after he’s successfully set-up by a fake source slandering one of Sweden’s most prominent businessmen. With his tail between his legs, Mikael attends a meeting with the uber-wealthy Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), a man ready to write his biography but haunted by the tragedy that forever shaped his life. Decades ago, Henrik’s daughter Harriet disappeared. Everyone in the family, including Martin (Stellan Skarsgard) and Anita (Joely Richardson), recognizes that the loss of Harriet and the questions surrounding her disappearance altered the course of one of their country’s most important companies. Can Mikael figure out what happened to her?

While Mikael investigates the past, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) uses the modern investigative tools of the present. The bisexual recluse with remarkable technological skills and a unique fashion sense was hired by the Vangers to background check Blomkvist. So, when she is coincidentally brought in as a research assistant to help him with his book, she already knows everything there is to know about him, most of it obtained illegally. Imagine meeting someone who knows more about you than your family and friends. Especially in this version of the book, there’s a sense that Lisbeth is a counterpart to the missing Harriet. There’s the girl about which Mikael needs to learn her secret – the mystery at the center of the piece – counterbalanced by the girl who knows all the secrets about Mikael. At first, it seems like Harriet and Lisbeth couldn’t more distinctly different and yet I believe the core of the source material is the realization that they have faced the same evil in dealing with truly horrendous men.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Photo credit: Sony Pictures

Lisbeth Salander is a force of nature. As played with coiled perfection by Mara, she seems like she’s always moving even when she’s standing still. Much was made over the casting of Mara, an actress heretofore known pretty much just for the opening scene of “The Social Network” and the poor people who suffered through the remake of “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” She’s simply stunning here, making daring decisions at every opportunity and, most importantly, giving a completely fearless performance. She never holds back. She dives into a complex character and brings her to life. Craig is very good and won’t get nearly the attention he should once again but this is Mara’s movie.

Sorta. It’s really David Fincher’s movie. I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for technical showmanship and even critics who may have issues with the plot of “Dragon Tattoo” (which is, admittedly, thin and predictable) simply cannot deny the technical elements of the film. Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth builds on the reputation earned with his work on “TSN” by brilliantly shooting the snowy climate of Fincher’s follow-up. So much of “Dragon” is shot through windows or from unique angles and Cronenweth has an amazingly consistent visual palette. The film simply looks better than nearly any other thriller made in the last decade. Fincher’s art direction team deserves credit as well for perfectly designing the limited number of settings in the film. A LOT of “Dragon” takes place at the chilly home that Blomkvist turns into his research center and I loved the design of that when balanced against the wealthy home of Martin Vanger up on the hill. It’s as if Blomkvist’s journalistic transgressions have sent him to the guest house and he’ll have to work his way back to prominence. Once again, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross deliver an Oscar-worthy score, a sibling of their work on “the Social Network.” The compositions may sound similar to “TSN,” but they work perfectly here, adding tension at just the right moments. Like “TSN,” the film is also brilliantly edited.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Photo credit: Sony Pictures

None of this matters without the assured hand of Fincher guiding the process. Some were surprised that he went with such well-known material after arguably the biggest success of his career. Those people don’t understand Fincher’s filmography. The man has always been fascinated with process. What goes into finding a serial killer like The Zodiac? How does a detective stop himself from getting caught up in the evil of a character like John Doe in “Seven”? How does a man create the biggest internet phenomenon of the last decade? Even films like “The Game” and “Fight Club” are built around rules and structure — the art of the game. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is heavy with process – looking at photos, checking emails, mapping out relationships on a bulletin board. Throughout his career, Fincher has taken the relatively mundane aspects of investigation and said that it’s there where true human drama is found. It’s in the process, not where most filmmakers find it — in the result.

Ultimately, here’s the most important thing to know about “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” – it’s incredibly entertaining. It runs over two hours and it flies like a bullet train. I knew the whole story from front to back and I was still riveted to every single frame. While I may get excited about things that go unnoticed by some (cinematography, art direction, etc.), I find it simply hard to believe that those of you who leave your weighted expectations at the door won’t come out with the same sense that I did – this is some of the best filmmaking of 2011.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” stars Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Robin Wright, and Stellan Skarsgard. It was written by Stephen Zaillian and directed by David Fincher. It is rated R and opens on December 20th, 2011.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

Manny be down's picture

The Girl With The Golden Tattoo

Daniel Craig is going away from 007 role in this movie he is more human then Bond first he is runing away after getting shot and he is more like bondage then like Bondbecdause the girl recuse him, but Rooney Mara steal the show as Salander she is a true survivor in this movie I reallu admires her character
This movie deal in the psychopathology world in the like of no country for old man plus other trillers.

ziggy one of the best's picture

girl with golden tattoo

Wow this movie was gr8 I Rooney Mara let not forget she is also the sister of KateMara from Glee which prove she from a talented family But what I love the best in this movie was what she did she did to that sumbag that rape her!!

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