Friday, December 23, 2011

Dark, Dreary and Disturbing: Dragon Tattoo Becomes Another Must Watch from David Fincher

    Many of my (not very smart) friends would claim that I don't like anything that is popular, and I would even go out of the way to not watch, read, or listen to something if too many people like it. This statement is usually wrong. When it came to Stieg Larsson's bestselling "Millennium" trilogy--which begins with the book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo--the statement rings more true: at one point in time in the past couple of years, it seemed like every living human was reading one of the three books, with their colorful covers and unique titles.
     So I decided not to read the books, particularly once I learned that David Fincher was adapting the first book of the trilogy into a film (same title). My thought: Fincher, one of the best directors working today, would make the story the best version possible. I still haven't read the books (though after watching the film my interest has risen), so I cannot attest to the versions of the characters, plot points, plot twists or narrative of Larsson's written word. There will not be any comparisons here. What I'm sure of is simple: Fincher has created another great film, continuing that trend from last year's incredible The Social Network. It's brutal, doesn't hold back any punches, and although the climax comes quickly and is a little less exciting than I expected, the American film version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of the year's best, anchored by Fincher's deft direction, Trent Reznor's beautiful and haunting soundtrack, and Rooney Mara's star-making turn as the wounded and wound-giving Lisbeth Salander.
     The story is extremely complicated at first for the uninitiated (me). Remember the first scene of The Social Network where Mark Zuckerberg and his girlfriend (who is actually played by Rooney Mara, if you can believe it) are talking fast and hurtful? Words fly by at a bullet's pace, snapping and insinuating in a sarcastic tone. The first part of Dragon Tattoo is like this too, except its about libel and a murder investigation and everyone is speaking in a Swedish accent. The basics: Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig, looking disheveled and tired), a journalist/publisher who does stories for Millennium magazine, loses a libel case against a man named Erik Wennerstrom with money to burn. He's in trouble, and his reputation has been flushed down the shitter. Soon after, he's invited to an island by a man named Henrik Vanger. Vanger knows that it would be beneficial for Blomkvist to leave town and let the dust settle after his court case, so he commissions Blomkvist to investigate the disappearance of his great niece Harriet, who wandered off 36 years ago never to be heard from again. Vanger will pay him double his normal salary and even give him some inside information about Wennerstrom (that would help overturn the libel case) if he figures out what happened to Harriet. Commence the murder mystery.
     Throughout all of this, we meet Lisbeth Salander, an asocial gender-bending badass who is an expert at computer hacking and surveillance. Lisbeth and Mikael's paths cross when Mikael realizes that Lisbeth's talents would be extremely beneficial to the investigation of a family that lives cut off to the outside world (on the cold, snowy island) and hold secrets like lovers hold hands. As Lisbeth and Mikael's relationship grows, so do the lies and complex plot twists involving the Vanger family and that fateful day 36 years ago when Harriet either went missing, ran away from home, or was murdered.
     Girls kicking ass: it holds a soft spot in my heart. Clearly more audiences want an interesting female heroine to root for, myself included. Men shooting each other and uttering corny catchphrases is only interesting for so long. Lisbeth, surely, is one of the best female characters of the year. A self-admitted psycho, she is a ward of the state due to her violence and anti-social behavior. As previously stated, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is brutal. Most of that brutality deals with Lisbeth and men that take her strength for granted. Her scenes are not for the weak of heart: they involved forced blowjobs, anal rape and extreme violence. She's had a tough life, and we know that because it's depicted with a wounded ferocity by Rooney Mara. Every sarcastic reply, tear, scream and expression of sadness is portrayed brilliantly by the total physical transformation and acting of this great young actress. Her ability anchors the sometimes disjointed plot and occasionally predictable twists.
     The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo isn't David Fincher's best directorial effort. But that doesn't especially say much, considering he made the classics Seven, Fight Club, and The Social Network. It's still one of my favorites this year, even if when you take away all of the stylistic flourishes, awesome acting and setting the story boils down to a murder mystery that would be right at home in a show like AMC's The Killing. But that's okay, though: the dark direction is impeccable, the pacing incredible, the acting awe-inspiring. When the credits roll on the other two stories in Lisbeth Salander's trilogy, The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, my only hope is that the same cast, crew, producers and musicians are listed, because I surely will have been wowed again.     (A-)

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