Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo review

David Fincher is probably the most talented studio filmmaker there is, at this moment. He has been for the past few years and it's gotten to the point where you take a movie like "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" which is a franchise in the making, a 158-minute movie, and yet it feels so smooth and effortless. The main plot, the genre, are things that Fincher has done before, but what struck me is just how easy he makes it all look even though it has been said that each scene Fincher shoots takes about 30-40 takes until he moves onto the next scene. Fincher seems to have his style down to a science and, these days, he is able to completely transform his style into whatever script lands on his lap. This is why I call him the most talented studio filmmaker. The way he is able to take these studio films and make it a David Fincher film. As brash as he may be, as much as he doesn't care about the attention he gets, Hollywood needs him. Scratch that, the movie world needs him. Few people have mastered the thriller genre quite like him.

Part of the reason for that is because of how he is able to handle the material. Fincher knows that a good thriller plays out deliberately and painstakingly. Every detail must be fine-tuned, everything about what we're discovering must be laid out clearly (or as clear as the material allows it to be). "Tattoo" is a film that takes it time to sink in, allowing the audience to become immersed in this universe and most specifically, to become fully acquainted with Lisbeth Salander.

Lisbeth, portrayed brilliantly by Rooney Mara, has had a "rough life" as one character puts it. She is a researcher for Milton Security. In the beginning, she's given the task of doing a detailed investigation of Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) a disgraced journalist for Millenium magazine. Blomkvist has ruined his reputation by as he recently lost a libel case against a crooked businessman. Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), retired CEO of Vanger Industries, hires him to do some research on an old murder mystery involving his niece. This is a chance to take a vacation from Millenium magazine. Eventually, due to the difficulty of this case, Blomkvist decides to hire Lisbeth. She's convinced to do the case after Blomkvist asks her to help him catch a killer of women.

This interests Lisbeth, of course, due to her rough background. She has a very striking, unwelcoming appearance and in the film is forced to do sexual favors in order to get access to her money. She eventually gets her revenge, but obviously the nature of this case and the warmth of Mikael's character seems to attract Lisbeth to the case. What follows is a very odd, very interesting friendship. In a movie where men aren't portrayed particularly well, Mikael represents the good that they are capable of. Lisbeth represents the power that women are capable of having. Through Blomkvist, Lisbeth starts to become more human, more relatable. This is what really gives the character a necessary third dimension and makes her one of the most memorable characters in film this year.

The film goes by smoothly thanks to the masterful direction and editing by Fincher and his production team. Steve Zaillian also does a great job of adapting the material by having all the bare essentials and refraining from turning this film into a typical Hollywood thriller. Of course, with Fincher, that wouldn't have happened anyway.

In many ways, this is a superb thriller and Fincher is really on a roll right now. Rooney Mara is an obvious choice for a best actress Oscar nomination as well. Will the Academy go for her? Or is she too dark and too off-putting? Rooney really goes all-in with this role though and I think she has succeeded in cementing herself as one of the most desirable Hollywood actresses working right now. Despite all those things, however, I can't help but feel that the source material are all pretty much things Fincher has done before, except for the Blomkvist/Salander relationship. The actual mystery itself, despite the menacing, disturbing performance by Stellan Skarsgard, it's all kind of by-the-numbers. This film really would've been a home run if the mystery itself was as dumbfounding and brilliant as the characters and their relationships.

Very well-rounded characters, an interesting friendship, masterful direction, but if I were to watch Dragon Tattoo again, it wouldn't be for the mystery and that takes up a great portion of this film. I haven't read the book or seen the Swedish film, but it seems they've all done the book justice. So you can't really fault the filmmakers or actors for anything here. What we have instead is a really well-made film from pretty average source material.

Rating: 8.5/10

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