It’s all about who has it and who doesn’t. And when those in power abuse it, tragic things happen.
Late author Stieg Larsson’s novel Man som hatar kvinnor (literally translated as Men who hate women) was turned into a very fine Swedish film titled The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in 2009. Two years later, director David Fincher has translated it into an exceptional English-language film of the same name. We have been treated to an exemplary dramatic thriller that never speeds; instead, it immerses you in its world for the duration of its running time and doesn’t let go.
Fincher has a distinct talent for being a very single-minded director; he doesn’t dally with loose plot points or anything unnecessary to the main focus of the story. From Se7en to now, all of his films have a singular drive and beating pulse that makes for such very engaging viewing. Here, he takes Larsson’s source material and brands it with his own style and panache, eschewing bright colors and flashy editing for a darker palette and a more muted bleakness. Set against the snows and cold climate of Sweden, we are hooked instantly by a story very similar to that found in today’s news: a steadfastly ethical journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), has just been convicted of libel, having accused a business magnate of corruption after being given information that turns out to be false. Where it diverges from real life is that even though his life is imploding around him, he is hired on the QT to investigate the 40-year-old murder of Harriet Vanger, the niece of wealthy tycoon Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer). Henrik believes that even though Blomkvist is the best man for this daunting task, despite his storied legal trouble.
How does Henrik come to this decision? Via a background check by computer cracker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a product of the ward system in Sweden, very akin to the foster system here in the USA. As a ward of the state, she is not allowed to make any kind of financial or personal decision for herself without the proper government guidance, which has just taken a turn for the worse. Her former guardian – whom she cares about in a familial way, as we see through various interactions – has just suffered a debilitating stroke, leaving her in the care of Nils Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen), a man with absolutely no moral scruples. Through Bjurman’s eyes, we are quickly exposed to how the world sees her: a violent criminal with no hope for a future. However, she is a genius with fascinating computer skills and a photographic memory, neither of which she hesitates to use to further her own investigations and find facts and information that no one else can find. Before long, both Blomkvist and Salander are paired as a result of deepening developments in the case; both of them have found clues and new leads that the police and the Vanger family could not. And it’s only a matter of time before everything comes to an explosive head.
However, Fincher doesn’t play it as explosive. Instead, he has concocted a slow-rolling potboiler that keeps the viewer’s attention throughout its 158-minute entirety. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo maintains a gainful pace, but never goes to either side of the speed extreme; each scene is given its deserved due and allowed the space to impart its findings. You may be balking at the aforementioned length, but it is never a problem here, as each clue and lead keeps the viewer enmeshed in the unfolding mystery. Fincher’s lack of color underscores the weary, world-worn spirits of his two leads, played engrossingly by Craig and Mara. Here are two battered souls in search of some kind of safe harbor, only to find it amid a sordid, ugly background. This iteration of Mikael Blomkvist has been eaten away by the ravages of advancing age, stress, and the weight of the world on his shoulders, and Craig makes us feel it all. With every enervated struggle to solve this mystery, we never lose sight of just how much of a toll has been taken on his life and how even his romantic situation eats at him. But the defining centerpiece of this film is Rooney Mara, as she gives Salander an almost spectrelike presence, ghostly in her movements and appearance. Nigh unrecognizable from her roles in the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street and Fincher’s previous film, The Social Network, she manages to not just play Lisbeth Salander – she becomes Salander, giving her entire body and soul to this quiet-yet-forceful performance. You can see the cynical, jaded woman she’s been forced to become; at the same time, you can also see the girl inside, hanging onto the last vestiges of hope that things may actually work out all right.
Before my screening of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I was falling asleep waiting for the movie to start; once the movie started, I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. Not because I was forcing myself to, but because the film is so magnetic and brimming with a slow tension that doesn’t let you go until the final credits start rolling up. David Fincher has again swung for the fences and not just knocked it out of the park, but he’s hit the next state over with this definitive example of a thriller that doesn’t require loudness or red herrings to keep audiences fascinated. An enthralling mystery driven by superb acting and a subtly terrific score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who also scored The Social Network), The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is one hell of a great movie.
FINAL GRADE: A+
Reel Film News Movie Review by Eddie Pasa