Sometimes, you sit in the theatre wondering how in cinema-heaven’s name a director got past the (corrupt, messed-up) MPAA with half the stuff he or she* put in the film projected on the screen.
*Especially in the case of Mary Harron, who directed the intriguingly disturbing American Psycho.
Director David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of those movies.
I’ll only spend a little bit of time writing about the differences between how we react to what we read versus what we watch, but know that in the book, the rape scenes and recounts of torturous murder were pretty hard to stomach. Now try watching that on the screen in front of you. It’s easy to say “Oh, that’s Rooney Mara doing a spectacular acting job,” but my first praise of the film is exactly that; Mara (Lisbeth Salander i.e. girl with the dragon tattoo) is perfection in that regard, and you feel every ounce of pain, humiliation and terror that she does.
As hard as Dragon Tattoo is to watch, I found myself never looking away from the screen. Just the opening credit sequence, typical Fincher with abstract visuals (i.e. the brain synapses in the of Fight Club), paired with Karen O, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ new interpretation of “Immigrant Song” left me transfixed and ready for whatever Fincher was going to bring to the screen.
Note: Fincher has always been on the dark and grungy side, or at least used to be. Se7en and Fight Club can leave easily-queezy viewers with quite a bit of nausea. Then he snapped into his “artsy” phase with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a movie I contend is longer than Gone with the Wind and only a quarter as good, and last year’s Oscar-contender The Social Network. His newest film mixes the best of both, with the dark, disgusting feel of his older work and the artistic, beautifully-shot films of recent years.
The story goes like this; for the first hour of the film, journalist Mikhail Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is fined for “libeling” a billionaire, even though he’s confident it was a set-up. To make up for the funds lost, he takes a job with rich Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to find out who killed Harriet Vanger 40-or-so years before. Meanwhile, Lisbeth Salander (Mara), a punked-out ward of the state, fights for the right to her own accounts while doing background checks (specifically on Blomkvist) for a security company. Her new legal guardian is a rapist pig and sexually abuses her until she gets her revenge, a painful but gratifying scene to watch.
Blomkvist and Salander colide when the journalist asks Vanger to hire a research assistant. The misfit pair works the case until they solve it, and Salander helps Blomkvist get back at the billionaire who libeled him. Don’t be fooled, however; the ending isn’t that happy for Salander, and leaves us hanging for what happens in Stieg Larsson’s sequel, The Girl Who Played with Fire.
There is nothing to compare to Mara’s performance as the tough, vengeful Lisbeth, excpet perhaps the even better Noomi Rapace in the original Swedish films. Daniel Craig (leading man Mikhail Blomkvist), though looking the part and attacking it with the right attitude, fell short a few times, but not enough to make audiences forget he was a journalist looking for a missing girl rather than James Bond. The most annoying part of his performance was the inability to stick with a Swedish accent. Then again, that could be said for everyone except Mara and Robin Wright, who held fast.
Apart from the newest version of “Immigrant Song,” which tops the original by Led Zeppelin, the music did the bare minimum of what a score is suppose to do. It added to suspense at times and never took away from the film, but was never really memorable. Reznor proves himself to be a one-trick-pony; what I hoped would be a driving, killer score like The Dust Brothers’ for Fight Club or The Chemical Brothers’ for Hanna was sadly a rehash of The Social Network, which undeservingly won the Oscar last year over Hans Zimmer’s Inception or John Powell’s How to Train Your Dragon (a fantastic score, despite how I feel about the movie).
But score and Craig’s accent aside, know that Dragon Tattoo is actually a spectacular film with great merit. Fans of the book will be extremely pleased, despite the slight ending change that cut Australia from Fincher’s shooting location list (those who have read the book know what I mean). Those who haven’t sat down with it will also enjoy it if they can take the dark undertones of the film. Be sure you’re with someone you’ve known long enough to be comfortable with while viewing rape and torture. Luckily, I picked the right person.
The verdict: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the best of both Fincher worlds and should be seen. Whether you have a tough stomach and see it in the un-pausable, un-fast-forwardable theater or wait for it on Netflix when you have more control, it’s one to spend over two and half hours watching.