Thursday, December 22, 2011

Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo



A little more than a year after gaining critical acclaim for The Social Network, David Fincher is at it again, adapting another well loved story for the big screen and putting his own personal spin on it.  The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the second movie adaptation of Stieg Larsson's popular novel.  The first film (a production from Denmark) was released in 2009.  Now before I review Fincher's version I must state that I've never read the book nor seen the 2009 movie.  All that being said, this adaptation staring Daniel Craig (as journalist Mikael Blomkvist) and Rooney Mara (as cyberpunk / social outcast Lisbeth Salander) is griping Hollywood drama at its finest and a must-see film for the holidays.

The movie tells the story of Blomkvist and his experiences in Sweeden during the investigation of a 40-year-old murder.  Hired by the wealthy Vanger family to uncover clues to the murder, Blomkvist ends up using the assistance of an accomplished but socially awkward investigator Salander.  Without giving too much away, we see Salander's struggle to fit in and the sexual abuse she suffers in the process.  Beneath all her awkward and quiet manerisms is an accomplished set of technical and investigative skills.  The bulk of the 2.5 hour film (which FLIES by, by the way) consists of following Blomkvist and Salander as they uncover a string of clues and evidence.  By building both characters up front, we as the audience are completely on board and feel like we're part of the investigation ourselves.

Mara is a revelation as Lisbeth Salander.  Both physically and emotionally she goes all-in with her portrayal. From the multiple piercings to the detailed tattoos and the punk/emo wardrobe and hairstyles, it's hard to believe that the same sweet girl who opened The Social Network as Mark Zuckerberg's girlfriend is the same actress we see in this film.  As the stoic Salander, Mara is able to convey so much emotion without changing the expression on her face.  It's an incredible transformation she pulls off as an actress and yet keeps so much of her performance minimal.

Craig is a great balance to Mara's bold performance.  Thankfully the Bond movies were on hiatus over the past few years to give Craig an opportunity to play this role.  In addition to the two stellar lead performances, Fincher gets great acting out of Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard and Joley Richardson.

Fincher doesn't hold back in portraying the very adult material in Larsson's book.  This is as hard an R rated movie as you'll see these days and as a result there are some really uncomfortable scenes to sit through.  These scenes are totally necessary though as the audience ends up feeling for these characters which helps ramp up the tension later in the film.  Fincher's direction is fantastic in this film and everything is shot with such perfect pacing.  He clearly makes Salander out to be an Apple fangirl and an expert in navigating technology with ease.  There's a funny little scene in the middle of the film where Salander is blazing through a MacBook, pulling up pictures with ease and switching between several applications on the fly.  Everything is brisk and almost poetic about the way she uses a computer.  Once Blomkvist tries to use the machine we see him fumble around and Mara plays the scene as if she's totally annoyed by his lack of computer skills.  There are a ton of small notes of humor throughout that add to Mara's amazing performance.  She SERIOUSLY better be up for Best Actress by the way.

Most people will compare the movie to Larsson's novel I assume.  I cannot make that comparison as I haven't read it.  Let's be honest.. I don't like to read much.  I'd much rather watch a movie or TV series than sit down and try to read a book.  Maybe it's because I have a little ADD in me but mostly it's because the movie-going experience is much more engaging.  I'm sure Larsson's book is incredible but I don't feel like I've missed anything by not reading it.  Fincher and screenwriter Steven Zallian have created a brilliant movie that can stand on its own as far as I'm concerned.  I also have to mention the great score put together by Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch (the same duo that took home the Oscar last year for Social Network).  Once again, the two have created a supporting soundtrack that is minimal in tone but completely balances the action on screen.  In a nod to Reznor's day job, one of Salander's cyber-hacking buddies in the movie is shown wearing a NIN t shirt.

Fincher has created another masterpiece here in line with my personal favorites The Game, Se7en and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  The Social Network was just so-so in my book but Fincher is back on top with this effort.  I find myself eagerly awaiting the next film in Larsson's Millennium Series of books which will also be directed by Fincher and presumably star Craig and Mara.  Heck, I may even read the book beforehand.  The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo succeeds in all aspects of film-making and narrowly slides in at the top of my list of best movies of 2011.  There's still a few more Oscar contenders I need to see over the holidays but this movie will be hard to top.  5 out of 5 JRs for a supremely acted and wonderfully paced tense thriller. It's very rare that I'll see two 5 JR movies in a row, but this movie and The Descendants were really THAT good. Go see both while they're still in theaters.

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