Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

There was little doubt in my mind that I was not going to like this film. Having seen Niels Arden Oplev's adaptation of Stieg Larsson's critically acclaimed novel, when I heard that David Fincher would be directing his own adaptation of the book, I felt (assuming the Swedish film at least retained most of the book's plot) that this sort of story would really benefit Fincher's style. If other directors had worked on the films he has made, they would not have that intensely dark auroras of despair, decay, and cynicism. His last seven films and certain elements of his first, have a stylized aesthetic to the stories that unmistakingly belongs to him. Especially with four of his films having been released in the last five years, I've seen more Internet reviews say "Fincher-esque," "Fincher-ish," and other categorizations of his style.

So my apparently unconditional admiration for his body of work aside, this film felt like an epic. Normally that world is associated with films like Lawrence of Arabia or Reds, but this was like the mystery-genre equivalent of an epic (past examples might include Chinatown and LA Confidential). Adapted by the very talented screenwriter Steve Zaillian, the story follows a disgraced, liberal, Swedish journalist named Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) who has been asked to investigate a murder that has been haunting the patriarch (Christopher Plummer) of an industrial family for several decades. This former baron, Henrik Vanger, believes that someone in his own family murdered his niece, Harriet. Mikael ends up teaming with a young hacker and possible sociopath named Lisbeth Salandar (Rooney Mara) to solve the crime.

Mara brilliantly handles the character that the title refers to. Within minutes of meeting Lisbeth and noticing her quite subtle ticks when she is around others, we start understanding her quicker than most films would allow us when the story has two leads. Her fashion sense is the first thing one will notice about her, but "fashion" really doesn't seem like the right word. When I hear "fashion" I think of someone who wants to display their style. Lisbeth is dressing like that so she can be noticed, but be noticed so she can be avoided. Craig is at his usual best and the chemistry between the two characters (Mikael and Lisbeth) becomes entrancing. Plummer is excellent as is Stellan Skarsgard as his oft-put nephew.

Of course Fincher, Zaillian, and the cast don't deserve all the credit. The film re-teams Fincher with many of his collaborators from The Social Network including cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall, and special attention should be given to composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Their score for this film only adds to the dangerous atmosphere that Fincher has created. Aside from their own music, the film features Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" performed by Karen O., Bryan Ferry's "Is Your Love Strong Enough?" by How to Destroy Angels, and although this is not included on the soundtrack, Enya's "Orinoco Flow" notably plays during a torture scene as the killer's choice of music. It may give "Stuck in the Middle with You" from Reservoir Dogs a run for its money.

Like I said, all of these parts power Fincher's machine that leads to some of the most immersive atmosepheres in storytelling. Whether it was disturbing nature of Se7en, the surrealist moments of Fight Club, or capturing the zeitgeist of the time with The Social Network, Fincher has delivered another film with a story you might not want to enjoy, but is sure to leave an impression with you. I still can't shake off the feeling certain scenes gave me.

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