Mark Reviews Movies

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorick van Wageningen, Joely Richardson

MPAA Rating: R (for brutal violent content including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language)

Running Time: 2:38

Release Date: 12/20/11 (limited); 12/21/11 (wide)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 19, 2011

With the bloated corpse of the original Swedish trilogy barely underground for two years (one, if one goes by release dates in the United States), screenwriter Steven Zaillian and director David Fincher have resurrected The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, an English-language remake of the first installment of author Stieg Larsson's so-called "Millennium" trilogy. There is really only room to improve upon Niels Arden Oplev's original movie, which suffers from vague characterizations (Albeit intentionally so, though the proceeding movies show that the main characters' basic levels are all in which the series is interested) and a central mystery that shoves hints of political intrigue to the side in favor of a cast of ancillary characters who may or may not be or have been Nazis or serial-killing sympathizers.

If it's possible—and, sadly, it is—Fincher has made a movie that is not only wholly redundant in light of the original but also one that is worse than its already problematic predecessor. It contains the same issues as its originator, and Zaillian's screenplay exacerbates those matters with a diminished take on the story's characters and an extended coda that assumes far too much investment in a simplistic protagonist who holds even less interest this time around.

The story opens (after a prologue establishing a MacGuffin that slips from Zaillian's mind quickly after and a primal scream of a surreal credit sequence (set to a rousing techno cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" by composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) that suggests more tormented rage than any of the characters are allowed to display) with the disgrace of journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), who has recently lost a libel case for writing some damning accusations in his political magazine Millennium against a successful businessman. Faced with a large fine and weakened trust, Blomkvist decides to call it quits, until a Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) requests a meeting at the wealthy and now retired entrepreneur's country estate.

Forty years ago, Vanger's favorite niece disappeared. Due to the remote location of the family property and the fact that no one saw her leave, Vanger suspects foul play, and after receiving framed plants—the niece's traditional birthday present for him—from an anonymous source for the past four decades, he believes the killer is toying with him. He enlists Blomkvist to track down what happened to his niece and unravel the identity of the murderer.

A secondary plot follows a punkish computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara, looking the role but never inhabiting it), who's an expert researcher (usually using illegal means to obtain information) with a photographic memory (a quirk that's rarely taken advantage of in the story but is meant to display something unexpected about her, given her outward appearance) and a load of psychological issues surrounding her violent past (She makes a sole reference to a defining act of her childhood). As of now, she is a ward of the state, and after her legal guardian suffers a stroke, her personal finances are placed under the supervision of Nils Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen), a lawyer with sadistic sexual appetites.

The story's centerpiece—for its shocking nature as well as its disconnect from the rest of the material—remains a graphic rape and retaliation sequence of events, which, like her eidetic memory, seems only present to play with our expectations of Lisbeth, who previously fights and defeats a man who attempts to steal her laptop in the subway. Fincher intercuts the violence with a receding dolly shot of a closed door, which is a far more evocative choice than the explicit scene that plays out behind the door. If the scene seemed out of place in the original movie, it highlights Zaillian's indecisiveness about the character of Lisbeth, who shifts violently between victim and aggressor, here (Mara—no matter how many profane shirts she may wear or piercings she may have—has a waifish quality to her that is inescapable, furthering the contradiction).

The plot runs the same course, with Blomkvist and Lisbeth slowly but inevitably coming together to solve the perceived crime and stumbling across a string of brutal, unsolved murders that appear to tie in to the girl's disappearance. Blomkvist interviews the inhabitants of the Vanger estate, including Martin (Stellan Skarsgård), whose father was a Nazi, and Harald (Per Myrberg), who is one; the unlikely pair of investigators scans photos and appointment books from the past in something that resembles research porn.

Fincher and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth do create an air of secluded dread with its Swedish locales, giving The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a refined polish that was absent from Oplev's version. Still, the material itself is generic, and the repetition of it grows tedious, most notably in the lengthy epilogue, which follows Lisbeth through the detailed motions of yet another revenge plan only to finally arrive at a note of some kind of definitive clarity of who she is beneath the artifice of her appearance. Her path is then similar to the movie itself, which is all artifice and little substance.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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