The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a phenomenal film. I have not seen any of the other incarnations of the story, but I am looking forward to checking them out… later. I am sure they are fine works, but for right now I just want to focus on this film, which I have not been able to shake since I saw it. I am just itching to see it again and before this review is published, I may have done just that. After relatively lighter films (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network), Fincher goes back into his dark side with this film, big time, as you have a serial killer story that is somewhat reminiscent of Se7en, a harsh climate that makes for a chilling atmosphere, and most importantly, one of the fiercest female characters ever captured on film.
The film sets up two stories concurrently, and has them converge somewhere in the middle. I really liked this approach because it allowed the characters to develop on their own for a while before they met each other. One of them is Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a reported who is been sued for libel. He is being investigated, though he doesn’t know it, by Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). She is a computer hacker with a very troubled past. As well as a very troubled present, for that matter. For reasons only touched on, she is still a ward of the state even though she is legally an adult. She has to account for herself to a disgusting man (and that’s being nice) who forces himself on her.
Those scenes are not easy to watch. The film goes farther than most films probably would given the same type of material. I would not think any less of anyone who couldn’t bear to watch it. The strange thing was, I couldn’t look away. It’s not like I’m sadistic creep who likes watching people get raped, far from it. In an earlier scene, Lisbeth’s bag is stolen in a train station. She gets it back from the guy fairly easily. So no matter how much suffering she was enduring in those scenes, I knew she wouldn’t let this guy get away with it. Even when he was raping her, I was more worried (well, worried isn’t a good word because I wanted him to be punished, but you know what I mean) about him than I was about her. All throughout this there was at least as much anger and fury on Lisbeth’s part as there was fear, possibly more. It’s terrible when it’s happening, but I knew she would win in the end. And boy, does she. It’s one of the sweetest revenges I’ve ever seen in any movie, ever. The way Fincher set it up reminded me a lot of Se7en actually, but in the best way possible.
Mikael, meanwhile has problems of his own. The reason Lisbeth was investigating him in the first place was to assess his suitability for a job offered by an aging business man, Henrick Venger (Christopher Plummer). He wants Mikael to investigate his niece’s disappearance, which took place about forty years ago. Nobody thinks he’s going to get very far, but he actually makes a surprising amount of headway. So much, that he’s going to need an assistant. And finally, the two leads come face to face.
The relationship they have is very interesting; it’s probably the most interesting and compelling aspect of the entire film. It’s hard for me to put into words exactly because it’s hard for me to tell just how much I am projecting onto these characters. Some sort of idyllic romance does not fit the story at all, but you can’t deny that these two like each other on some level. By the end of the film, there is a great deal of respect and trust that develops between them. For example, Mikael, who has just recently regained his life savings, lends almost all of his money to Lisbeth without needing to know what she is using it for. That’s a pretty big amount of trust. They obviously respect each other as fellow researchers as well. I don’t exactly know why Mikael pulls away from her towards the end, especially when Lisbeth seems the more emotionally distant of the two of them, but that’s what happens. The ending for me was heartbreaking; Lisbeth’s sadness is downplayed and that makes it all the more poignant.
I also really appreciated the gender role reversal in this film. It’s not that I go into every film checking for these things, but when the story lends itself to doing this I kind of can’t help myself. In most films, one has to be content with the female character simply not being useless. If the female character just helps the male character save her or some one else, you sort of have to consider them strong. In most films, the female character getting the gun away from the bad guy (or something similar) when the male character is doing most of the fighting is about as much as you’re going to get. Not so in this film, there is no denying that Lisbeth is the stronger character in this aspect. She ends up saving Mikael from the serial rapist and murderer, instead of the other way around. She does all the saving in this film. Obviously the characters come first and I’m not trying to go on some extreme feminist rant and say that I want all films to have female saviors in them, I’m just saying it was nice to see here for a change. Mikael and Lisbeth are both great and strong characters in their own rights.
The characters are great, and so are the performances. Whoever had the idea to cast Daniel Craig for Mikael is a genius, given the baggage he carries from James Bond he’s perfect for this role. The fact that James Bond has to be saved by anyone, especially a woman, is just perfect. He’s able to make Mikael a lot different from James Bond though, and since this is the first role I’ve seen him in outside of James Bond I was happy to see he could take on different roles this well, and I hope he continues to do so in the future. I loved the small details to the character, like how his glasses would hang off his face in concentration and his friendship with the cat (adorable cat by the way). As great as Craig was, the show undeniably belongs to Rooney Mara. She is almost unrecognizable in the role; unlike Craig’s performance in which you know it’s him and you can get a kick out of knowing that he also plays James Bond, Mara’s performance is pure character. She is Lisbeth, end of story. She knows exactly how much emotion to express in each scene and how much to keep hidden. Though I haven’t seen Streep in The Iron Lady, I verily believe Mara was robbed of the Oscar that year. Mara has to go through a lot to turn in this great of a performance, and she’s perfect every second that she’s on screen.
Fincher shows obsession and absorption very well. He doesn’t knock you over the head with it, he just sort of lets it hang in the background. Somewhere along the line I noticed that there wasn’t snow on the ground anymore, which means Mikael and Lisbeth have been working on the case for a number of months. Fincher doesn’t specify how long, he doesn’t have some character come asking why it’s taken them x number of months and they still haven’t finished it, he just lets the time elapse. The characters don’t acknowledge it, and that’s what makes it all the more horrifying to the audience. I remember Fincher employing a similar technique in Zodiac and it’s nice to see it again here.
Similarly, the greatest thing that Fincher’s doing here is the atmosphere. After seeing all his films, I am convinced this is Fincher’s greatest strength as a director. He knows how to instill feelings of foreboding in his audience, especially in his darker films like this one. He controls the environment perfectly. Here it’s cold. That’s fits clearly because of the film taking place in Sweden. The predominant color of the film that I remember is white, to go along with the snow. He uses some darker colors as well and a disgusting shade of brown for Lisbeth’s guardian. But you will rarely see a color from the rainbow, and if you do it will be muted. The score also contributes a great deal to the atmosphere; it’s another triumph from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross who also scored The Social Network. I really hope Fincher continues to use them in whatever film he decides to do next because they are fantastic.
Everything is working top form in this film. If I had to make a complaint it would be that I can’t remember the investigation and how the story with Wernerstrom works out. The characters take the forefront for me, and I’m not quite sure if that’s because the investigative aspects are not as clearly laid out or because I can’t pay attention to them as much. Regardless, I love this film. For me, it is definitely one of Fincher’s best and nothing would make me happier with regards to his career if he came back for the rest of the series. At the end of the day, it’s a great story with great characters, and if you can stomach pretty dark films, you owe it to yourself to see it.
“I like working with you.”
“I like working with you too.”
Long story short: 4/4 stars
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