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I should open this review by saying that I have not read Stieg Larsson’s novel upon which this film is based on, nor have I watched the 2009 adaptation from its home country so I can’t compare the two or talk about faithful or not it is to the novel. I came to this film very unfamiliar with its story except for the fact that I knew there’s supposed to be a big rape sequence in it.
The film opens with a hypnotic title sequence that puts James Bond’s to shame and sets the crazy, dark, melancholic tone for what’s about to come. We are then shown Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), an investigative journalist who lost a libel case against a corrupted businessman named Wennerström which leaves both his ego and reputation shattered; that he is constantly reminded by everyone about it just makes it worse.
Later on he is hired by former industrialist Henrik Vanger to use his investigative skills to find out who in his incredibly messed up family killed his beloved niece 40 years ago. The case is not easy, everyone in the family seems to have their own motives and is evil in one way or the other, but the reward is far too good to pass: information about Wennerström that proves Blomkvist is right.
But what role does the titular girl play in this whole thing you might ask? The first time we see Lisbeth (Rooney Mara) is giving a man working for Vanger all the information they need about Blomkvist. She is also an investigator and possesses almost supernatural computer hacking abilities. For most of the first hour of the movie her story plays separately to Mikael’s; she’s under legal guardianship due to being diagnosed mental incompetency at age 12 after burning her father to death. She is presented as antisocial, strong, determined, violent when she needs to be and most of all, smart.
Though not bad by any means, all of this feels a little disjointed, almost as if we were watching two different movies intercut between each-other. It’s not until both stories converge that things start getting really good. Mikel hires Lisbeth to work with him, she only accept cases that are interesting but he doesn’t have to do much convincing her after he tells her what he has found out.
This is the point where director David Fincher’s mastery for thrillers really gets to shine. As proven by Se7en and Zodiac, very few directors can craft a murder mystery quite like Fincher does. Like those films, there’s a point where the interest stops coming from the investigation itself and instead comes from just watching fascinating characters that are well-created by both actors and screenwriters do their thing and interact with each other which elevates the otherwise predictable plot.
Fincher’s movies are also known by having a very specific type of look, this time provided by Jeff Cronenweth, with whom he also worked in The Social Network and Fight Club. Girl is no different; it’s stylish like only Fincher knows how to do. The sets are not beautified, everything looks just as it would in real life which combined with the gloomy lightning establishes the haunting mood that somehow feels both real and dreamlike at the same time.
His confident direction allows him to try inventive and impressive camera angles (like a subjective view from inside a plastic bag) that are great. The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch is also brilliant and complements fantastically the beautiful visuals and they’re not afraid to experiment as a torture scene with an Enya song in the background proves. All in all, this is a pretty much perfect movie technically speaking.
One thing I should point out is that this is a very violent movie, which to me at first posed no problem as I’ve seen violent movies ever since I was a kid. But Fincher’s desire to make things as realistic as possible makes certain scenes very tough to watch. The rape scene in particular is absolutely brutal and stands right there with Irreversible as one of the most cringe-inducing moments in my cinema watching history.
Even though Daniel Craig’s name appears first in the titles and every promotional material, it’s Rooney Mara who steals the film with her sublime performance as Lisbeth. Her most powerful tool is silence, which makes her seem almost robotic and cold hearted but there’s a certain vulnerability displayed behind her tough exterior. The attention to every little detail in the way she talks, moves and even when she isn't doing anything is incredible. She gave everything to the character physically and emotionally and it shows on screen.
But that’s not to say that Craig is not good. He plays against type as a man who has lost confidence in himself but is nonetheless determined to get the job done, he is also clumsy and more normal looking than usual. They have great chemistry and that makes the interactions between the characters and the little moments like Lisbeth rolling her eyes when Mikel takes several minutes finding a picture on the pc an absolute joy.
Fincher is not a director who sticks to the usual three act (beginning, middle, climax) storytelling method. He does it his own way and plays around with several stories at the same time like he has with his other movies. It doesn’t work as well here due to the source material not being as strong, the main investigation is great but some subplots drag it down and the last few minutes feel out of place with the rest of the film. At two hours and forty minutes it's just too long and can get pretty heavy at parts because the story is just not made to support such a long film.
Fincher is one of the masters of modern cinema and even though Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo does not quite reach the highs established by his other films, it still is a great movie with interesting characters and beautiful aesthetics that is definitely worth watching.
Trailer 2: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Second, lengthy trailer for Fincher's new adaptation of Stieg Larsson's novel.
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