Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - ***1/2

Directed by: David Fincher

Starring:  Roger Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright, Joely Richardson

Review:  At times this movie will be hard to sit through for some.  Director David Fincher has never shied away from the more ugly parts of humanity.  That’s what this movie is about in many ways, the ugliness of humanity, both those that perpetrate it and those that overcome it.  All of which is wrapped up in an engrossing murder-mystery plot that is sure to keep all enthralled.

Our story starts out with two seemingly unrelated storylines of Mikael Bloomqvist and Lisbeth Salander.  They are brought together when Salandar is hired, through her company, by an outside source to do a full scale background investigation on Bloomqvist.  While this doesn’t directly lead to them teaming up, it is most certainly the catalyst.

The two come together in order to solve a decades old mystery.  With a family as twisted as the one that hires them, there are most certainly a lot of secrets hidden deep down.  The biggest of which involves the disappearance of one of the youngest and brightest pupils of the family in the 1960’s, Harriet.  This is the mystery Bloomqvist and Salandar have been brought to solve.

The mystery takes stage front and center from this point on.  We begin to learn more and more about the shady past dealings of this family.  Sitting upon a fortune and an incredibly large business empire, the family has let most of it slip away as their de facto patriarch, Henrik, has been so consumed with finding out what happened to his beloved Harriet.

What the book hammers home and the film falls somewhat short of getting across is the plight of women in Sweden.  There is a theme abuse that befalls the women in this story, both sexual and physical.  The author of the novel Stieg Larsson explains on the first page of his tome that over 30% of Swedish women are abused sexually in their lifetime.  It’s important for that information to be out there, at it sets a tone for a story that is not really about what it’s about.

Fincher has the right idea and the wrong idea with this story all at the same time.  It’s not ‘really’ about the murder mystery.  It’s about sexism, family dynamics, perseverance, and strength.  The mystery is a vehicle big enough to carry all of these lofty themes.  While the unfortunate reality of sexual abuse is that most of it goes unreported, the women in this film choose not to be victims.  They take their lives in their own hands and fight back, at times violently. 

There is a strength of will and character (in the emotional sense and not the theatrical sense) that permeates all the women in this film.  That it’s not brought to the forefront only makes the effects more powerful.  Yet, even with such strong themes present the movie is still built like a mystery.  This felt awfully similar to the film ‘The Ghost Writer’ last year.  While most will be enthralled by this aspect, it’s not what makes it great. 

Fincher has an unfortunate situation here.  He is presented with rich material for him to create indelible characters that will draw people in.  He is also given an engrossing mystery that most people will love even more.  He can’t focus on one more than the other and risk losing the interplay that makes it such a great story.  Perhaps this is a situation in which the book truly is the best format so both sides get their appropriate due (in full disclosure, I have not read the book, but my gf has and she has told me many of the differences). 

As a director, Fincher is more than capable and balances things as well as they can be balanced.  Where this movie may fall slightly short is in the brilliant performance of Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salandar.  It may fall short simply because there is not enough of her!  Mara slices through this movie with an acute ability to act this generation hasn’t seen in quite some time.  Hopefully she will continue to do great things, but if this is any indication, we are set for quite a career from the young actress.  I could have handled a bit more of her storyline and a little more depth into how her past affects the dynamics of her relationships.  That said, what remains there is brilliant.

Daniel Craig brings little more than the lines on the page to this film.  The actor in the Swedish original I thought played the part better and at least gave it some sincerity.  Perhaps it’s going up against the likes of Christopher Plummer and Mara that makes him look pedestrian, but he still shows through as the weakest part of the film.

Fincher’s direction is precise and technical as usual.  He, Darren Aronofsky, and Christopher Nolan are showing themselves to be the next generation of great directors.  They have a mastery of the technical as well as the character driven sides that all the great ones do.  Fincher specifically has been on a hot streak of late and will surely get recognized in some fashion for his work on this film.

This movie is definitely worth your time.

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