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For a nice boy from Denver, David Fincher sure has a chokehold on the goth.  Darkity-darkness is something heís very good at portraying on screen; a mildly repressed Grand Guignol evident in films like Seven and Fight Club and pretty much everything else heís done.  Fincher tests those dark leanings against the work of Stieg Larsson in his version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Scandal, calumny and slander, a muckraking journalist has apparently chosen the wrong foe to investigate.  Mikael Blomkvist faces some hefty penalties for reporting on the ill-gotten gains of Hans-Erik WennerstrŲm, a powerful, seemingly unstoppable businessman, without the solid evidence needed to back his claims.  The brouhaha of the libel case threatens to bring down the magazine Mikael writes for, so he resigns and finds himself with some time on his hands.  An offer to investigate a thirty-year-old missing personís mystery isnít of particular interest until Mikael is made an offer he canít refuse.  Henrik, the patriarch of the Vanger family, one of the wealthiest in Scandinavia, will not go peacefully to his rest until he discovers what exactly happened to his beloved niece, who disappeared off the planet a generation ago.  The eldest Vanger offers to give Mikael the evidence he needs to back up his claims against WennerstrŲm and thereby dismiss the libel charges if Mikael will conduct an investigation to find his nieceís killer.  In his quest for information, a young computer hacker is recommended who already has quite a knowledge of Mikael, having investigated him before.  The strange girl isnít anything like other researchers, with her ragged, black-on-black outfits, piercings, tattoos and motorcycles.  She doesnít put her incarceration in the insane asylum on her CV, either.  No matter, the girlís ability to infiltrate important computer systems, her tireless and obsessive attention to detail and her photographic memory are a godsend to Mikael, who finds out at his own peril that there are some in the Vanger house that would do anything to keep family secrets buried.

Itís nearly impossible not to compare this new version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with the original Swedish film made just two years ago.  In many ways, the comparisons fall in the new adaptationís favour.  Fincher has a much better grasp on pacing than the often slow first movie.  He also gets more resonant performances out of his supporting cast, including Christopher Plummer as Henrik Vanger, the smiling head of a household of vipers.  Stellan SkarsgŚrd as Martin, the CEO of the Vanger family businesses accedes to Henrikís dying whim to allow Mikael to dig around the family closet, sure that nothing of any significance can come of it.  One of the troubling aspects of the original film that is almost overcompensated for here is the casting of the male leads: In the Swedish film, we had Michael Nyqvist as Mikael, a fine actor, but not exactly a typical heartthrob and it was always too big leap for me to go with what it was that the young, gorgeous, bisexual Lisbeth was attracted to.  With Daniel Craig as Mikael, the answer is there before he opens his mouth because heís Daniel Craig.  Nyqvistís physiognomy may have been closer to the middle-aged writer Larsson had in mind, but cinematically it was hard to believe in terms of his relationship with Lisbeth.  In Fincherís film, itís almost too easy, but Iíll take it.  I was actually surprised by the relative reserve of the violence of Fincherís version; recalling the original movieís longer, more brutal mugging attempt on Lisbeth by a group of thugs.  Even the sexual assault of one character seems about on par, but no more shocking than in the first film. Thereís only one character onscreen that really has it bad enough to make one cover their eyes and the audience can see it coming as soon as the character makes its appearance.  The comparative hedging brings me around to our lead, Rooney Mara as Lisbeth.  Last seen in the small, pivotal role of the girl for whom the Facebook empire was built in The Social Network, Mara must carry this film very much in the bizarre, alien skin of this disturbed, gothic outsider.  Sheís pretty much on point for most of the film, and there is a ton going on behind the eyes of the not-exactly-chatty hacker.  The social disconnect is there and much more than in Swedish film, you get why she clings to Mikael immediately as in her mind, he is that rarest of things; an honourable man.  The one thing I was missing, even in scenes of twisted vengeance was a sense of threat.  Lisbeth didnít scare me at all.  I didnít want the character to be a comic book villain or some kind of monster, but the fact is that this is someone who for all intents and purposes could be dragged off to a loony bin at any point, or so weíre given to understand.  I didnít get the feeling of sociopathy that could blast off into something quite dangerous in a heartbeat.  I wasnít sure if it had to do with the very slightness of the daintily-built Mara, or the script not really giving her the chance to show that side, as with the barely-existent mugging scene.  Maybe Iím just spoiled by the wild-animal unpredictability of Noomi Rapace in the Swedish movie as she perfectly conveyed the simmering menace under the disaffected character.  With Mara, Iím going with the narrative, because she clearly puts heart and soul into Lisbeth, investing her all into the character; she simply may be better than the script.

Fincher does an amazing job at capturing the starkness and minimalism of the original film and its Swedish moodiness, which is perfect for this horror story of another stripe.  The mystery aspect is keenly written and the audience feels the fires burn closer to Mikael the nearer he gets to an answer, with the loyal Lisbeth acting as his leather-clad guardian angel.  As I mentioned, Fincherís pacing makes the over two and a half hour long movie zip along, although occasionally in that speed, things are missed; such as how exactly the rest of the Vanger family are supposed to be as terrible as weíre constantly told, outside of a couple of era-appropriate Nazi nuts on the family tree. When the familyís secrets are revealed, it is good and horrible, and the restraint I mentioned earlier is very effective; giving enough visual information to haunt the viewer whilst allowing them to use their imagination, which, as Fincher knows, can be more shocking than anything he can put on screen.  The director mixes a hypnotic cocktail with his haunting visuals, strong performances and the soundtrack by Trent Reznor, which is practically another character; one that crawls under the surface of each scene and adds to the intensity of the whole piece.  If someone could take the best bits of Fincherís new work and cut them into the negligible flaws of the original film, youíd have a perfect story.  As it is, this version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo stands up perfectly well on its own and may garner its hugest fans from those uninitiated to either the first film or the Larsson books.  It will almost certainly ensure remakes of the following two chapters in the story of Lisbeth Salander; The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornetís Nest and hopefully Fincher will be the guiding hand behind them both.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

December 20th, 2011 

 

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