Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Righteous Warrior, Cramped By Style And An Awkward Kind Of Love

Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander in David Fincher's remake of the Swedish drama "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo". 

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
ay, December 20, 2011

Rooney Mara dazzles as Lisbeth Salander, a porcelain waif of an avenging angel of wrath in "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", David Fincher's American remake of the Swedish film by Niels Arden Oplev, based on Stieg Larsson's Millennium book trilogy.  The film opens tonight in the U.S. and Canada.

Mr. Fincher's asset as a filmmaker is his strong sense of vision, investigational rigor and style.  Style dominates as a weapon in this drama, and the arresting opening credits are right out of the James Bond playbook.  Cue a bedraggled Daniel Craig, the creases on his weathered face fitting well
as investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist, if his uneven Swedish accent doesn't. 

Mikael has just lost a libel case against Sweden's top billionaire businessman, and like a pariah is cast out of his Millennum Magazine position, suspended indefinitely.  Lisbeth has a kindred spirit in him, for she too is a castaway, an orphan as a ward of the state, its minder and parental figurehead a rapist who sexually assaults and brutalizes Lisbeth.  At the behest of Vanger family patriarch (Christopher Plummer, grand here as Henrik), Mikael turns detective to look for a 40-years-missing woman of the Vanger clan and solve a case of serial murders, all the victims women.  Lisbeth, a proficient young computer hacker, throws her chips on the table.  Telegraphed and timed like Santa's arrival down a chimney, we know from the moment we see Henrik's son Martin (Skellan Skarsgård), bad things will start happening.

For the most part Mr. Fincher's edition, a glossy, golden brown, alternately ice-cold delicacy written by "Moneyball" co-scribe Steven Zaillian, stays true to Mr. Larsson's book, though "Dragon Tattoo" lacks sufficient grit and gravitas to favorably compare to the 2010 Swedish feature, although the atmosphere and fetish-like bondage undercurrents of this new film are marvelously augmented by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's score, perfect for this film the way their Oscar-winning score was for Mr. Fincher's "The Social Network" last year. 

The big problem with the new "Tattoo" however, is its discipline in the editing room.  Some of the film's episodes are repetitive or stray long beyond their curfew.  The film is almost two hours and 40 minutes in length, and uneven in pace and tone.  Stylistic grandeur and opulence grows weary, becoming the synthetic, sweetened and candy-coated antiseptic wash that Mr. Fincher's epic "The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button" suffered from.  Overall, Jeff Cronenweth's cinematography eventually softens Lisbeth and some of the malevolence that makes parts of the film (and its original) so potent.  (The violent subway station fight that Noomi Rapace executed so credibly is truncated a great deal this time.) 

I enjoyed parts of this film a great deal, especially Ms. Mara, as well as Robin Wright as Erika Berger, Mikael's Millennium boss and part-time lover, her vacillating accent and all, but Mr. Fincher's film remains a surface-level entertainment throughout, never penetrating the depths that such previous efforts as "Seven" and "Zodiac", his best film, did.

The relationship between Mikael and Lisbeth is also problematic.  Mr. Zaillian doesn't seem to know if they are workers or lovers or even both.  Mr. Craig's Mikael looks like a paternal figure and "Tattoo" operates on that level until Lisbeth takes matters into her own hands.  Even so, because Ms. Mara looks so frail, nubile and pre-pubescent here her Lisbeth could be a child, ostensibly Mikael's daughter, which makes the dynamic between Lisbeth and Mikael even more creepy and uncomfortable.  Mikael, who has a daughter not much younger than Lisbeth, acknowledges this on a metaphoric level when he asks, "but we work together, isn't this going to make it difficult?" after (or is it before?) a sexual episode.

Ms. Mara brings stoicism and, in late scenes, sex appeal to the intellectual and physical aspects of Lisbeth, who comments wryly about a character's reticence to engage in more cunnilingus with his lover.  She delivers the line in a neutral way, the way you'd expect Mr. Schwarzenegger to say "hasta la vista."  Lisbeth's emotional center isn't necessarily developed well, and while she is activated, paradoxically there isn't always a sense she's the most proactive or passionate individual.  Lisbeth is clinical, calm and methodical, and any surprises that arise from her along the way are the product of the director's desire to push a button or two rather than a need to represent Mr. Larsson's highly popular books every step of the way.

Some may ask the $64,000 question: is this new Lisbeth a feminist?  I don't know.  She has a strong sense of justice and dictates her sexuality on her own terms in a male-dominated and sexist society yet doesn't advertise any particular social or political agenda of empowerment or equality.  Lisbeth just wants to right wrongs and strike back at the brutes who brutalize women and herself.  In that way she's an avenger but sadly Lisbeth pays a price: she's betrayed by a late, incongruous love story neither she nor Ms. Mara, so irresistibly good most of the time here, deserves.

With: Joely Richardson, Steven Berkoff, Geraldine James, Josefin Asplund, Eva Fritjofson, Moa Garpendal, Per Myberg, Yorick van Wageningen, Goran Visjnic, Julian Sands, David Dencik, Alistair Duncan, Jürgen Klein, Mats Andersson.

"The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for brutal violent content, including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language.  The film's running time is two hours and 34 minutes.

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