“The Social Network” gave me false hope.
It was my favorite movie of last year. The prospect of seeing David Fincher (and not to mention Trent Reznor) tackling “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” after seeing the Swedish version (I haven’t read the book yet. I know, pathetic, right?) was just too good to be true.
I assumed Fincher’s approach to Facebook and the Zodiac Killer would make him a perfect fit for the cold, computerized, technology driven thriller that made the original so riveting.
In this American adaptation of the Millennium novels and not a remake, Fincher has done exactly what I expected and has made a film that is at times thrilling and brilliant and at others frustrating, slow and dry.
Fincher’s Sweden is as stark, cold and monochrome as one might expect. Even the most wide open nature shots seem dim and dour in this universe. And to compliment this aesthetic, “Dragon Tattoo” is a very deliberately shot and edited film in which characters speak quickly (but not clever, “Social Network” quickly), cut to the chase and speak without spark.
Every scene seems frigid and computerized, and the whole first act in which we learn of journalist Mikael Blomkvist’s (Daniel Craig) conviction over falsifying an article on a wealthy business executive, followed by his excursion to help Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) investigate the missing person and murder case of his niece Harriet, are all fairly lifeless in their crime procedural execution.
It is not until we meet the computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara, also of “Social Network”) does the movie attain some bite. Lisbeth is a dark and disturbed investigator assigned to research Blomkvist, but her life is thrown into more turmoil when her much loved government guardian suffers a stroke.
If there’s one drastic difference between the way the Swedish version of the story and the American version characterize Lisbeth, its that although she hates men and is driven mad by their abusive sexual tendencies, there is a lot more mystique and ambiguity to Noomi Rapace’s performance.
We never knew Lisbeth’s full potential in the Swedish version because we never fully knew or understood Lisbeth. Every act came as a shock. The American Lisbeth however is fully in control and seems capable of just about anything. When her new guardian brutally rapes her, her retaliation to tattoo “I am a rapist pig” on his chest is certainly ruthless, but almost believable.
That said, Rooney Mara gives a powerhouse performance as Lisbeth. Mara shows true vigor in the role, resembling a truly beaten, worn and damaged woman with unlimited potential.
And her intensity really comes into play when Lisbeth and Blomkvist finally meet. Craig and Mara have wonderful chemistry, the awkward kind that simply adds to the mystery, suspense and intrigue. Their investigation on Harriet’s murder likewise picks up steam, piecing together numerous cryptic clues in classic mystery thriller fashion.
We almost forget that “Dragon Tattoo” is straight genre fodder when we see the scarily strong and suspenseful performance of Stellan Skarsgard as murder suspect Martin Vanger. He has an absolutely chilling scene that from Skarsgard would almost be phoning it in. The film adorns him in eerily great low angle shots and intricate sound mixing.
An added dimension I was missing however was a stronger sense of how technology plays into “Dragon Tattoo” as a 21st Century story. The Swedish version did this wonderfully, making familiar Mac operating systems an integral part of the suspense and storytelling in the digital age. Fincher’s version focuses more on the aforementioned quick cuts and minimal camera movement in its early scene to create such a sensation, but even this year he’s been bested by the cinematography and editing in “Contagion” and “Moneyball” (Steven Zallian wrote the screenplay for both “Moneyball” and “Dragon Tattoo” this year) to the same ends.
It also would’ve helped if Blomkvist’s character were more developed. Craig is bland in the role, and I’ve long attested Viggo Mortensen would’ve been more naturalistic here, but I digress. We learn more about Harriet than we do Mikael, and had he been more developed, his story arc in the final act would feel more necessary. The way it is, the climax seems to come a half hour too soon in this already long two hour 38 minute film.
I don’t doubt “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” will be a smash at the box office. There are enough bold and brilliant moments to turn Rooney Mara into a star and leave a lasting impression in this busy winter movie season, and there are enough boring moments to at least question what happened.