The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Directed by David Fincher
Just over three months ago, I pondered if “Fight Club” was David Fincher’s highest achievement in directing. The pondering stopped with Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” the sexually graphic and darkly twisted thriller based on the novel by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson. Daniel Craig tops the bill as Mikael, an investigative journalist searching for clues to crack the 40-year-old cold case of a missing teen girl. He interviews members of the girl’s entrepreneurial family—including her brother, played by Stellan Skarsgård, and her uncle, played by Christopher Plummer—to help in his quest for the truth. Then he enlists young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, played to near-perfection by Rooney Mara, to help unravel the mystery. In the end, however, they find that the answer they sought was right under their noses the entire time.
Not having read the novel or seen the original 2009 Dutch film, I came into “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” with little knowledge of what to expect. I barely knew what the story was about, and the ambiguous trailer was of little help. Now I’m glad I hadn’t had any exposure, because what I got far exceeded anything I could have expected. Rooney Mara’s Oscar-nominated turn is sublime. Full of sexual tension, poignancy, and cutting wit, Mara perfects the character of Lisbeth like no one else could. Pending the remainder of this forthcoming trilogy, Lisbeth Salander could easily go down as one of the most original and startling characters in cinema. Don’t get me wrong, Meryl Streep was a marvel portraying Miss Thatcher in “The Iron Lady,” but Mara may have been robbed. Get used to Oscar’s appreciation, Rooney. I see gold in your bright future. Daniel Craig completes this sultry, titillating pair. Mara and Craig are a natural team in and out of bed – but really, there’s a considerable amount of sex. In fact, Craig seems to connect to everyone he comes in contact with. He and Plummer chat like they were childhood friends – a remarkable feat for any two actors. And Plummer by himself is a miraculous asset. The seasoned veteran can hold conversations with anyone and make it seem completely natural. In “The Last Station” he stole the show, in “Beginners” it earned him an Oscar – and we don’t need to talk about “The Sound of Music.”
Last year, Steve Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) was nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. I’m here to say he was nominated for the wrong movie. “Moneyball” doesn’t hold a candle to this powerful, intellectual, cutting, and energetic script. It’s as dark and psychological as it is elaborate and poetic and brimming with suspense and intrigue. “The Girl” is also helped by its flawless (and Oscar-winning) editing, using fades (who uses those anymore?) and sharp cuts to build interest or show the passage of time. Minor, but equally worthy of mention.
It’s all about location, and apparently, not enough thrillers are filmed in northern Europe (Sweden and Switzerland, mostly). Bleak, consistent snow makes for a constantly eerie and terrifying setting. “The Shining” had the same idea; everyone familiar with literature knows that winter symbolizes death. And how can you not expect death in such a lonely, hopeless place? Each of the main characters is desperately isolated (aside from one another) in Sweden, with barely any extras needed to finish production. But they have their laptops! I could call it a technological thriller, a new era of instantly gathering information and a new femme fatale in Lisbeth to represent it. And a tech-y, overbearing, and powerful score compliments both the Alps and the Apples. Wrapping up in just under 2 hours and 40 minutes (the longest runtime of any nationally-released film since “Avatar” and “Watchmen” in 2009…yeah, I did my research), this obnoxious asset was necessary to keep some awake, in case the edge-of-your-seat thrills weren’t enough. The climax rivals that thrilling basement scene in “Silence of the Lambs,” the be-all and end-all of thrills.
Excitement for the second and third installment of the electrifying trilogy is building, but question marks fill the space where a release date should go. It seems we’ll have to wait a year or more to get your Fincher fix. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a tour de force, a promising start to the newest hypable film trilogy!