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The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: This Film’s Effect Is Merely Temporary

If you’ve never seen an episode of Criminal Minds or Cold Case, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo has a good shot at being one of your favorite movies of the winter. It is shot in a typically gorgeous and cold Fincherian fashion, its score is moody and tense, and it boasts one of the best female performances of the year in Rooney Mara as the titular character. I can’t speak on its faithfulness to the books or its comparison to the original Swedish film, as I’m familiar with neither. However, I can say anyone familiar with thrillers and procedurals will find nothing new here– it’s a well-executed but not especially original genre piece every time Mara is off-screen, and its imagery and events left my mind fairly shortly after leaving the theater.

Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is a Swedish journalist facing a libel suit from one of the richest men in Sweden. He and his co-owner/mistress (Robin Wright) are in a pickle– they can’t keep their independently-run magazine afloat after paying the damages from this suit. Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) is a hacker/researcher who has dug into Blomkvist at the request of Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), a billionaire who wants to hire Mikael, pay him a hefty amount, and give him material to exact revenge on the man who sued him. All Mikael has to do? Solve a mystery that has troubled Henrik for forty years– the disappearance of his grandniece, Harriet. The Vanger family are all extremely rich and extremely icy to one another. Some are former Nazis, some seem to be closet sadists, and absolutely none of them, save one (Stellan Skaarsgard), are interested in having an outsider stay on their estate and dig into their pasts.

Lisbeth is far and away the most compelling character, and Mara gives a performance worthy of Lisbeth’s expectation-shattering behavior. She’s neither the revenge-struck angry girl, the boyish “tough” cold girl, or the submissive typical female assistant. She certainly shows us elements of all three, but never at predictable moments. I was struck by her more sensitive and caring moments, since Fincher isn’t knowing for having too many of those in his films, especially not in these sort of prototypes. Lisbeth is the smartest person in the room at all times, and she’s the most on-edge person in the room at all times, which makes her both a valuable asset and a bit of a sociopath. A few scenes made me feel slightly uncomfortable at what could be read as exploitation– nudity on screen, especially in a movie in which men hate women, sometimes reads less as vulnerability and more like an invitation to ogle the naked body– but Lisbeth is at her sexiest with her clothes on. She’s strong, smart, and self-assured: everything that the old guard style men she encounters hates. The sentence “May I kill him?” is at once submissive and powerful, a very sexy balance. If you couldn’t tell from her pitch-perfect scenes in Fincher’s The Social Network, Mara is a young talent to watch.

It’s a pity that the rest of the story isn’t as intriguing. Plummer and Skaarsgard are charming, and Craig does his best, but the entirety of the mystery is set in the past, as is the libel lawsuit, so the overwhelming majority of the 2 hour and 36 minute run time is nothing but exposition. It’s people sitting around talking about what has happened in the past, people reading books about what happened in the past, people looking at photos and internet articles about the past. It’s to Fincher’s credit that the movie doesn’t really drag (several 90 minute films this year felt far longer), but it doesn’t really captivate either. Reznor’s work here is strong per usual, but the music is less memorable because the scenes being scored are less memorable, the exception being a fierce abstract opening credit sequence that sets up the film to be something epic and explosive. Unfortunately, it never lives up to the expectations it sets, and I even found it as an outsider to be quite predictable (any fan of thrillers or mysteries will figure out who the killer is immediately upon meeting him/her). Adaptations of well-known books often feel like they were made for the book’s fans, exorcising the seemingly-extraneous details that make the books so beloved in the first place and leaving those unfamiliar wondering what the hubbub was about. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo put me squarely into that camp: it’s a technically-savvy but overly-familiar crime thriller, no more, no less.

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~ by russellhainline on December 28, 2011.

4 Responses to “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: This Film’s Effect Is Merely Temporary”

  1. It’s certainly worth seeing if you missed the original. If you saw it, however, there’s no way of unseeing it, and nothing in the new one to top it. Craig and Mara are great here though and Fincher brings so much more to this film like I was expecting too. Good review.

  2. I still just don’t get it… why was this movie even made? haha good review!

  3. I also believe this is one of those films that was made for those who enjoyed the book, which is why I can’t agree with some aspects of your review.

    “A few scenes made me feel slightly uncomfortable at what could be read as exploitation– nudity on screen, especially in a movie in which men hate women, sometimes reads less as vulnerability and more like an invitation to ogle the naked body– but Lisbeth is at her sexiest with her clothes on”

    I just feel it’s important to say that the nudity and the sexual scenes are important because they were important in the book; she is a very very sexual person. It’s an important part of her character, therefore it’s brought to the screen (as it should).

    I did enjoy your review though, especially reading from the perspective of someone who hasn’t read the book, but for those of us who have, it was fantastic!

  4. […] My Week With Marilyn 6. Keira Knightley, A Dangerous Method 5. Saoirse Ronan, Hanna 4. Rooney Mara, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo 3. Kirsten Dunst, Melancholia 2. Juliette Binoche, Certified Copy 1. Tilda Swinton, We Need To Talk […]

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