Theatrical Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Swedish investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist has made some serious allegations against a powerful business magnate that has backfired on him.  Blomkvist’s reputation is shattered and the magazine that he writes for (and co-owns) is facing a tremendous legal battle. Simultaneously, Blomkvist is being investigated by another business tycoon as part of a background check with the main investigator being a brilliant young woman with her own demons named Lisbeth Salander.

Henrik Vanger, the man having Blomkvist wants to hire Blomkvist to investigate the disappearance of a woman who has been missing for forty years.  BlomKvist agrees and starts to make headway, but needs more help.  Through Vanger’s resources, Blomkvist comes into contact with Lisbeth Salander who proceeds to help him with the mystery.

That’s the premise to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo the latest film from director David Fincher adapted from the novel by Stieg Larsson, as well as from a Swedish film production of the same title.  I’m totally new to this whole thing.  I’ve had the opportunity to watch the Swedish original thanks to Netflix Instant Play, but have decided to hold off, just to see Fincher’s version first.  There will be no comparisons to either the book or the original movie here simply because I have not seen or read either.

But I am a huge fan of Fincher’s and have seen all of his movies.  Fincher makes movies designed to provoke and all with a distinctive visual style.  If there’s any of his movies that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo most resembles, it has to be Zodiac. Both movies take their time in uncovering their facts and both are meticulous about their methods of investigation.  Both also lean back a bit with Fincher’s visual style, though they are still very good-looking movies.

I found the story and characters of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to be thoroughly engrossing and I was surprised by just how fast this 2 hour and 40 minute movie seemed to fly by.  Fincher makes every scene count whether it’s in uncovering the mystery or adding more to the characters of Mikael or Lisbeth.

Speaking of those characters, much has been said about Rooney Mara’s performance as Lisbeth, and it really is a terrific performance.  After seeing this and also seeing Mara’s sister Kate as part of the cast of FX’s American Horror Story (she played Hayden on that show) there’s a part of me that would never want to be in the same room as the Mara sisters.  Lisbeth, to me anyway, is not a likable character, but she’s still fascinating to watch and Rooney Mara’s performance is absolutely compelling.  When she’s on-screen, she commands it, even when she’s playing opposite of Daniel Craig.  She is possibly the most disturbing character I’ve seen in any movie all year and huge praise goes to Mara for investing so much of herself in this part to make her so compelling.

Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist and it’s in no way near  his character of James Bond.  He’s a terrific counter-point to Mara’s Lisbeth and brings a great balance to the course of the investigation.  Near the end of the film, Mikael is in really deep trouble, and the fear that Craig projects is certainly palpable.

Both are backed up with some terrific support.  Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Joely Richardson and Geraldine James all do great lived-in work with the standouts being Plummer and Skarsgård (who’s certainly having a good year in film with this, his work in Thor and in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia).

But, I do have one minor quibble with the film and it occurs near the end.  There are a few spoilers here, so consider yourself warned and if you want to dodge them, then proceed to the next paragraph.  As part of his agreement with Vanger, Blomkvist has been promised help in reclaiming his good name and getting back at  Wennerström, the man who sent Blomkvist’s career spiraling.  As part of this, Lisbeth has also chosen to help Mikael due to the relationship that has developed between the two throughout the film.  Up until this point, while Lisbeth has certainly been an extreme character, things happen here that stretches credibility quite a bit.  Basically, Lisbeth assumes an entirely new identity complete with a drastic change of appearance and character that goes a little beyond what we’ve seen of her skills up until now.  This whole identity change that she goes through is on the same par as watching Tom Cruise do his disguise work as Ethan Hunt in the Mission: Impossible films.  It seems totally out of place for this whole thing and as such, it put me off of this just a little bit.  Now this isn’t part of the main story though, and it helps wrap up some things with Mikael outside of the main story.  So while it is off-putting, it’s not by any means a deal breaker.

That aside, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is terrific entertainment brought to us by a true master director in David Fincher.  The performances are all outstanding and Rooney Mara will leave an indelible mark after seeing her in this film.  There are some intense sexual and violent situations in the film and it certainly does earn it’s “R” rating.  If that’s off-putting to you then you may want to avoid this.  For all others, then go out and see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

01. January 2012 by Darren Goodhart
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