A Review of David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (for real this time)

I previously wrote a piece on SOPA under the guise of a Dragon Tattoo review. But this one is authentic, now that I have actually seen the film.

I’m not sure why Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy has become the world-wide success that it has. I have read the books in the past year, I enjoyed them immensely, and believe they are well written and contain the sort of engaging characters that most hack authors struggle their entire lives to create. Yet I do not think that they are the sort of instant classics that their sales figures would imply. I have a feeling the reason is because it can delude American readers into thinking they are being multicultural. “Look” they will say “I’m reading a book – just like the ones they read in Sweden. Now, I’m going to shop at IKEA. I have such a broad world view!”

In fact, Larsson’s novel has more in common with the American grungy thrillers that people like David Fincher helped popularize. It is violent, dark, and strangely addictive despite its bizarre characters and depressing setting. So it feels like the material is coming full circle by becoming a Fincher directed film. And Fincher, in his adaptation, seems to know this. His take on the material seems so…accurate that it almost feels like a documentary. That was something not even the original Swedish trilogy could accomplish. Other directors may have been afraid to film the material, as adapting a critically lauded, widely seen foreign film is seen as sacrificing the sacred cow. Not Fincher – he fearlessly dives into his adaptation and is uncaring of what people may think about remaking a film. This version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is one of the best American studio films, to come out this year, mostly because it does not feel the need to ask our permission to exist.

If you don’t know the plot, well then, congratulations on waking up from that coma of yours. I try my best to cater to medical marvels; this next section will be for you. A journalist named Mikeal Bloomkvist (Daniel Craig) is hired by an old millionaire named  Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to solve the forty-year old mystery of his daughter’s disappearance. He is joined on his task by the enigmatic computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) who is dealing with her own problems.

When I reviewed the original Swedish film, I had not read any of the novels. I also expressed skepticism over Fincher’s remake. I did, however, write that the film “may not be a deep experience, but it is a very entertaining one.”  I would like to amend that statement for this review; namely, I would like to get rid of the first part of the sentence. The original Swedish version seemed to believe (not wrongly) that the story was still new to audiences. Thus, it was hung up on the narrative. This version seemingly assumes that people will know how the story ends, and thus feels a sort of freedom to experiment with the way to reveal the solution. The camera teases on important items in the film (in a way that only those who know what they are will get the joke), and even the characters have speeches that tease audience with outcomes (Vanger says that detectives should “always suspect the man who hired the detective” while chuckling to himself). This is how the film demonstrates its bravery. No shots from the original film are duplicated; Fincher demonstrates his unique vision in every scene. The result is, honestly, quite funny at times. Yes, all of the grit that was in the original books is still present and yes, the rape scene is just as hard to watch again. But the focus comes not in shocking the audience (as the original film had to do) but in demonstrating just what goes into such scenes to make them shocking.

Of course, narrative techniques are not why people go to this film. Let’s get onto the star attraction for many people the hot goth woman. This is not entirely unfounded; the character of Lisbeth Salander is what transcends the material above the typical John Grisham thrillers. So, let’s talk about Rooney Mara. At the risk of starting a flame war, I found her to be the superior Lisbeth. Noomi Rapace, in the original trilogy, never quite nailed Lisbeth’s internal conflict and her own bizarre view of herself. She was merely dressing and acting like Lisbeth Salander (although she did so very well). Mara actually BECOMES Lisbeth during the course of the film. She exudes confidence, but is screaming inside. Salander was fascinating because she was a genius, but was hiding a great deal of pain. She made it up by being as sexual aggressive as possible, but was still vulnerable. Mara captures this, and even manages to look as androgynous as Lisbeth is meant to look. There is no equivalent of Lisbeth in any other film. It was a challenge for any actress to play this role, but Mara conquered it. She’s already been nominated for several awards; I am not sure if it will lead to an Oscar nomination (mostly because Lisbeth is still a sadistic character), but she deserves it. Mara demonstrates that she is a confident enough actress to attack the role as Fincher attacked the film.

The material is still pretty standard thriller material. The Agatha Christie like set up is not going to revolutionize the world. This is why I did not really talk about the plot; it’s been discussed and the flaws have been pointed out by many others.  What is special about The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo is in its presentation. Fincher is a superior craftsmen to the directors who worked on the original trilogy, and is not afraid to demonstrate why. This is one of the most consistently (and surprisingly) playful and entertaining films I have seen this year.

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