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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo--A Robwrite review
Rooney Mara; as Lisbeth, the girl with the dragon tattoo (left); and as herself
An engrossing but very unsettling film
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (3 stars out of 5)
For people who are familiar with the best-selling book by Stieg Larsson or the 2009 Swedish film version of the novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a mostly faithful adaptation of the story and it will probably depend on how you feel about the casting as to whether or not you like the new version. For those who aren’t familiar with the story, your opinion of the film will depend on your tolerance for intensely graphic and disturbing imagery, because there is quite a lot of it here.
Director David Fincher is known for his no-holds-barred style of directing films with violent imagery, such as Se7en, Fight Club and Zodiac. This film most closely resembles Se7en, in that it deals with a serial killer who uses a specific theme as a motif for committing acts of extreme violence. Of course, the killer isn’t the only one in the film who needs therapy. The film is replete with images of violence, rape and sexual humiliation. So viewers be warned that this film is not for those who have a low tolerance for graphically depicted scenes of a disturbing nature.
The plot, which takes place in Sweden, is split in two halves at the beginning of the film but comes together halfway through. One story deals with muckraking journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), who is hit with a massive libel suit after printing an erroneous story, and sees his career going down in flames. In order to escape the ever-present reporters who are hounding him and to make a few extra bucks for his legal defense, Mikael takes a job on a privately-owned island helping billionaire Henrik Vanger (Played by the great Christopher Plummer, still giving strong performances at 82) write his memoirs. It turns out, however, that Mr. Vanger has another objective in mind aside from just telling his life story. He wants to solve a 40 year-old murder.
We learn that 40-years earlier, Vanger’s beloved niece Harriet mysteriously vanished from the private island owned by the Vanger family, on a day when a car crash blocked the bridge which is the only access to and from the island. Vanger has become convinced that one of his family killed Harriet, since they were the only ones on the island at the time. He has been consumed with the disappearance since and he wants it solved soon because he is getting old and wants to know the truth before he dies. Learning of Mikael’s experience at getting to the truth of complicated news stories, he hires Mikael to go through his archived records to see if he can shed some light on Harriet’s disappearance. Mikael begins the research and starts interviewing surviving members of the bizarre Vanger family, some of whom are ex-Nazis. These relatives include Vanger’s nephew Martin (Stellan Skarsgard), and niece Anita (Joely Richardson).
Meanwhile, in the parallel plot, we are introduced to the eponymous, tattooed Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Lisbeth is a troubled 24 year old Goth-girl with more piercings and tattoos all over her body than a whole rock band. She has had a lot of problems with the law in her life and is a ward of the state. However, she is also a first-rate computer hacker and deceptively clever. She hires herself out as a researcher for people who want background information-checks done quickly, efficiently and covertly. (She can also beat the tar out of a purse-snatcher who unwisely chooses her knapsack as his latest target.)
Lisbeth has a lot of bad luck. Her kindly former guardian has had a debilitating stroke and she is assigned a new official named Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen) who controls how much money she gets each week and whether or not she is judged incompetent to live on her own. Bjurman is a sadist pervert who thinks that the girls placed under his authority are there as his personal concubines. He foolishly believes that Lisbeth, like the other girls, will be resigned to lying down (literally and figuratively) for him. She puts up with his perversions until she decides to retaliate in her own inventive and vindictive way.
The two stories dovetail when Mikael becomes so convinced that the Vanger family is hiding something, he decides he needs a research assistant and talented hacker to help him get to the bottom of the things. He chooses Lisbeth since she did the background check on him before Vanger’s lawyer Frode (Steven Berkoff) hired Mikael. After some initial discomfort on Lisbeth’s part, the two begin to bond and Lisbeth becomes an assistant-with-benefits (nudge, wink).
Together, they connect Harriet’s disappearance to a serial killer who makes Jack the Ripper look like a pro-feminist. Clues uncover the theme to the killer’s modus operandi. But which member of the family is it? Also, it seems the killer knows they are getting close because attempts are made on Mikael’s life. Can he and Lisbeth find the killer before the killer gets them?
The film keeps the setting is Sweden, mostly to satisfy purists of the book and previous film, but it does cause some inconsistencies; such as the fact that the news articles they research are all in English when they were printed in a Swedish paper. (Good for the American viewers but bad for internal logic). Most of the non-Swedish cast tries their best to fake some sort of accent, except Craig who doesn’t bother.
Craig does a good job as the down-and-almost-out Mikael who remains a sympathetic character, despite his numerous indiscretions. (He is intimately involved with his editor Ericka--played by Robin Wright--who is married. She suspects that Mikael is also getting something extra on the side from Lisbeth, and she’s right.) Craig puts aside his Bondian heroism and gives a very subdued performance. Christopher Plummer makes the most of his limited screen time and reminds us in just a few scenes why he is one of the greats. Stellan Skarsgard also gives a nice supporting performance.
But the real key to the film is Rooney Mara as the titular character. Fans of the previous film may be so used to Noomi Rapace’s rather feral performance as Lisbeth, they may have a hard time getting used to Mara’s interpretation of the character. Mara’s Lisbeth is cold and closed-off on the surface, but underneath she has a plethora of pain which she tries not to show. Lisbeth is a broken person but a formidable one nonetheless; often dangerous. She dislikes most people and often seems to have good reasons to, yet there is something indomitable about her. Mara does a good job making Lisbeth simultaneously eerie and sympathetic.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an engrossing mystery although people who are familiar with the previous versions will know what happens. The film was planned to be the first in a trilogy, just as the books and the Swedish films were; however, judging by the poor opening-weekend box office, this may be the last we’ll see of Lisbeth’s dragon tattoo. Why isn’t it doing well? Maybe it’s remake-overkill or maybe the graphic violence and rape just weren’t in the proper Christmas spirit for this time of year. (You can understand after seeing it why the original title of the book was the Men who hate Women) Fincher does seem to revel in the imagery here, such as when the camera gives us a long look at a bloodied, mutilated cat from several angles. It seems almost gratuitous. So let the viewer beware; don’t take any kids to see this movie and you may want to think twice about seeing it yourself if you don’t like blood and violence, rape. (I’d have rated this film a whole point higher if it had cut back on the gore and sexual assaults.)
Mildly recommended but beware of unsettling content.