Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Directed by David Fincher.
2011. Rated R, 158 minutes.
Rooney Mara
Daniel Craig
Christopher Plummer
Stellan Skarsgard
Robin Wright
Yarick von Wageningen
Joely Richardson
Geraldine James
Donald Sumpter
Julian Sands
Ulf Friberg

Alan Dale

Lisbeth Salander (Mara) isn’t your typical girl. She generally doesn’t like people and they generally don’t like her. She works for a company tthat does extensive background checks and is only used on “interesting” cases. In other words, she’s a very talented computer hacker. Despite being an adult, she’s also a ward of the state whom we’ll see jump through some very interesting hoops to get control of her own affairs. Oh, almost forgot, she has a tattoo of a dragon on her back.

Back to Lisbeth’s job as a hacker. That’s her entry point into the main plot. She’s been keeping close tabs on Mikael Blomkvist (Craig). He’s a disgraced journalist, having just been successfully sued for libel by a very powerful and high profile businessman. Lisbeth was hired by another rich and powerful guy, Henrik Vanger (Plummer). After being satisfied with what she’s found, Vanger hires Mikael to solve a mystery. Over 40 years ago, Henrik’s niece Harriet disappeared. Even though this happened on the secluded island the entire Vanger family lives on, she was never found and no one has ever been held responsible. Henrik believes someone in the family is her killer. Mikael takes on the project, but obviously can’t make any promises on such a cold case. Eventually, he decides he needs some help and hires Lisbeth, himself.

Truthfully, it takes a while for our two main characters to actually meet one another. Until then, each is embroiled in their own fascinating drama filled with twists and turns. Mikael’s whodunit progresses not unlike many others, but it’s still well done and maintains suspense. Lisbeth’s life saga is brutal, yet compelling. The warning here is that there are some difficult scenes to sit through. After they meet, the twists keep coming and our intrigue is piqued.

In the two lead roles, both Mara and Craig perform excellently. Mara’s Lisbeth appears fragile but is really calloused from the many blows life has dealt, and keeps dealing her. She doesn’t believe in self-pity, only penance. She takes the philosophy of “an eye for an eye” to a whole new level. On the other hand, Craig plays Mikael as the complete opposite of James Bond whom most of us will think of when he first shows up on the screen. Mikael’s a cerebral and emotional guy that’s not used to being in physical danger. Like Bond, women seem drawn to him but it has nothing to do with machismo or suaveness like it does for the super agent. Mikael also doesn’t seem to deal with pain, too well. He’s pretty much the inverse of not only Bond, but also of Lisbeth. Mikael has a tough looking exterior with a soft middle. She’s far more action hero than he.

Don’t get the wrong idea. Though there is action, an action flick this is not. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is part murder mystery, part character study. It’s not only a study of Lisbeth, but of Mikael, too. A large part of this is how their relationship evolves. It’s interesting to note how, as a pair, they function in ways opposite of traditional gender roles. Seeing them interact not-so-subtly lets us know what we should expect when things get tense.

TGwtDT is an excellent movie. However, it can’t be reviewed without comparing it to the Swedish original from 2009. To be fair, director David Fincher’s American version is not a remake, even though it bears a strong resemblance to its predecessor. Both are adaptations of the Stieg Larsson novel of the same name and the first of a trilogy. Without having read it, I’ve heard that this version is slightly more faithful to the book.

I have seen the Swedish film, though. There are some differences. Some work better in this movie while others favor the original. Two main ones stick out. Lisbeth’s guardian is one of the movie’s villains. I feel this character was better done, more thoroughly evil in the Swedish movie. This makes certain events that much sweeter in their brutality. The other is multi-faceted. It starts with the various relaitionships of Mikael. This version explores them more deeply by making the editor of his magazine much more of a factor. This leads us to an ending that better sets up the sequel. Of course, this presumes the entire trilogy will be adapted as they were in Sweden. If you put a gun to my head and force me to choose which I like better, I’ll say this one by a very slim margin.

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