Film Reviews


By • Dec 30th, 2011 •

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David Fincher has a tough act to follow. Not only is he having to adapt source material that’s already had a critically-acclaimed film version, he’s also following up on last year’s extraordinary THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Fincher and co. have handled the build-up to its release perfectly, with inventive trailers touting DRAGON TATTOO as ‘The Feel Bad Movie of Christmas’, cryptic websites containing hidden footage, and a controversial poster.

DRAGON TATTOO’s story is a deconstruction of the ‘locked room mystery’ Agatha Christie made famous, with an overarching commentary on Sweden’s sociopolitical climate, and (even though it’s set in 2003, the time of the novel’s publication) it’s troubled history before and during World War II. In it, a wealthy CEO, Henrik Vagner (Christopher Plummer), hires a disgraced journalist by the name of Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) to investigate the decades-past disappearance and possible murder of his sister, Harriet Vagner. Along the way, Blomkvist teams up with introverted hacker Lisbeth Salander, who assists in his research as the investigation turns up a connection between Harriet’s vanishment, and a series of bizarre and brutal serial killings occurring around the time of the incident.

The novel is far from perfect. The first third of it in particular is plagued by a frustratingly slow pace, with little happening in overly-detailed sections that seem to go on forever. However, once all the characters are in place, it leads to an incredibly compelling mystery that lends itself well to a film adaptation.

David Fincher and his screenwriter, Steve Zaillian decide that the way to fix the novel’s pacing problems is to proceed at such an accelerated rate that they don’t give the audience any breathing room. Although this approach helps in making the story more engaging at points, the film is likely to be very confusing to those who have never read the novel or seen the Swedish film. Even at such a fast clip, Fincher creates a tense and brooding atmosphere, with echoes of his earlier film, SEVEN. There’s plenty of suspense and incredible detail.

As you can see from the cast list on the right, there’s a roster of great performers to be found; but the most incredible of all is Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander. Through a rigorous exercise regimen, she looks exactly as you’d imagine Larsson’s character to look; short, pale, and somewhat androgynous. Her speech pattern is scarily close to the odd, clipped, somewhat-monotone verbiage of someone with a social anxiety or developmental disorder. You can tell that this is an actress who really dove headfirst into the role she was given.

Daniel Craig is, as always, an engaging lead as Blomkvist. Taking more from his work in LAYER CAKE as a cautious but exacting career criminal, he builds the character well as a level-headed guy caught up in something much bigger than himself.

David Fincher has been given due praise in his past work for his marvelous technical prowess, and this is no exception. From his beginnings as a commercial and music video director, there’s always been a masterful cinematographer by his side. This is his third collaboration with Jeff Cronenweth (son of legendary cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth), who expertly milks the loneliness and expansiveness from even the smallest and darkest of locations.

Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and fellow musician Atticus Ross, fresh off their Oscar-winning score for THE SOCIAL NETWORK have put together another engaging musical score. Composing close to three hours of music for DRAGON TATTOO, the duo furthers the eerie atmosphere. Karen O even sings a cover of the classic Led Zepplin “Immigrant Song” over the incredible opening title sequence, with backing from Reznor and Ross.

Despite all its technical and acting prowess, DRAGON TATTOO is a bit of a letdown due to its rushed storytelling and wonky pace. Nonetheless, it’s worth a look for its strengths; brilliant technical work, an amazing musical score, and memorable performances.

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