The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Review: Rebellious Hacker Confronts Layered Evils

Director David Fincher has the unique ability to make any location that he films a dark, mystical place, even in some of the most serene settings. In some of his earlier work like “The Game,” San Francisco turns from a colorful ethnic hotbed into overcast, nighttime paranoia and underground ferocity. He changes characters from shining and flourishing to going through mind-bending processes, oftentimes pulling the carpet right out from under us into a state of perplexity and awe. That’s not to say this doesn’t happen in his latest adaption, “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo,” but the chilling, if not questionably paced narrative, the crepuscular surroundings, and intensely ominous characters seem to deny this aesthetic auteur the ability to probe deeper. It’s Fincher’s desired end product stretched into his beginning and middle too.

The film, based off the blockbuster Millenium series by Stieg Larsson, contains the mysterious and gritty nature its fans adore, and it also adds a more humanistic emotion to the spectrum. The challenge it faces, besides the age-old book to movie comparison, is separating itself from the Swedish predecessor that came out in 2009. The strengths of that film, directed by Niels Arden Oplev, were the gross realities of female torture and sexual abuse as well as the lingering ties to anti-Semitic culture. Fincher subsidizes the extreme dirtiness and in-depth look at a mystery case pertaining to paternal breeding of sadistic minds. Instead, he attempts to explore his main characters, specifically the title role, and their estranged parts from society.

Lisbeth Salander, first played by Noomi Repace and now equally if not more effectively by Rooney Mara, is maybe literature’s most obscure female rebel protagonist, misfit in every visible way. Her black, spiked and uneven hair complements the leather garb she adorns that also starkly contrasts her pale features and blonde eyebrows. Piercings dangle from extremities, queasy to imagine their intrusion, as does the signature print down her back. She traverses Swedish terrain by motorcycle and hacks accounts with her computer, committing background checks and personal profiles for large investment companies; all illegal of course. Her beaten past is not accounted for in detail, but her dependent status leads her into the wrong hands and two distinct forms of corruption link together.

This persona development is split with scenes of the story’s male principal, Mikael (Daniel Craig), a news journalist in the midst of a devastating personal indictment. Slammed for libel, Mikail decides its best he step down from his high position at his fleeting journal newspaper company, Millenium, to prevent any further damage to it. Shortly after, he is hired a by a prosperous businessman, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), to investigate a murder crime to his niece Harriet from over forty years ago. The Vanger family is filled with personal resentment and eternal grudges, physically expressed in the dispersed arrangement of family members’ homes within their large estate. This is only one struggle Mikael, along with Lisbeth, whom he later recruits halfway through the film, must entail. Researching a supposed death within the family makes them privy to all forms of skepticism, especially in a Vanger group that consists of actor Stellan Skarsgard, a man whose evil emanates from just appearance alone.

The hidden layer in uncovering this murder is the deeply disturbing filial background of Nazism and female abuse, which even extends its way out of the Vanger clan. Lisbeth, to maintain her malnourished, anti-authoritarian lifestyle, must submit to the lascivious and savage demands from a state-appointed guardian, who takes his imperious role to the extremes of sexual violence.  Mikael and Lisbeth draw closer as every man they encounter grows more maniacal. The howling wind that surrounds Mikael’s research hut has a similar dissonance to screams of torture, and he becomes the only trustworthy male to an independent Lisbeth.

Fincher’s familiar darkened foggy and huish yellow lens cement themselves again on the walls of the Vanger estates, but their visual deceptive qualities are almost rendered useless amidst the already gothic winter of Sweden’s landscapes. Fincher is best technically with his ability to string a story with numerous, economical cuts, keeping the energy and intensity high and giving just enough information on screen to connect the narrative dots. For lovers of the story, he tinkers only near the end, expanding and twisting minor points to emphasize his interpretation; one that is less thriller mystery (think X-Files) and more  about interpersonal maturation.

Daniel Craig and Robin Wright

Daniel Craig is stiff, but screenwriter Steve Zaillian (Moneyball) gives him enough witty quips and investigative insight for some substance. His uninspired love-interest and boss, Robin Wright, tries her best to make the most of her small and yet emotionally vital role. All Craig’s character Mikael really becomes is an idle observer because the movie belongs to Ms. Mara, whose dedication to the role of Lisbeth is evident in every disturbing way. Mara takes her ostracized depiction and un-relatable quality and adds a communicative appeal. The salacious nature of men she encounters, though the film doesn’t pander too much with, shows her subtle transformation when she opens herself to Mikael. This climaxes to  commanding, topless encounters, and yet still suggests a weaker confidence for someone in charge of her chaotic routine.

The tension in the film, and there’s lots, is strongly backed by the undercurrent of techno pulses and lingering electronic vibrato from composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (Oscar winners for “The Social Network” soundtrack). They provide the more threatening feelings that sometimes amount to nothing and yet pre-curse a destined trap. The ingredients are all there for Fincher to toy with, but to keep the analogy, Larsson’s recipe stifles the creative process. The effort  presents a haunting capsule of the Nordic tale, but it finishes less chilling and eerie. Mara, however, does not lack these descriptors, creating Lisbeth into someone we care for, and then boldly reject- a character in our grasp and yet miles away, making us beckon for more.

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