December 28, 2011

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Stieg Larsson's posthumously popular novel brought to the screen by writer Steven Zaillian and director David Fincher. I haven't read the book or its sequels, nor have I seen the 2009 Swedish filmization of the novel. But this American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was sheer exuberance. Fincher seems to be getting better and better. His 2007 Zodiac is just about the best film of that decade, and he seems to have found a way to further explore the themes of obsession, murder, and the inevitability of the past, with his latest movie.

Daniel Craig plays a reporter in Stockholm who's being sued for malice by a sleazy businessman. He's left broke and discredited as a journalist, so he accepts an unexpected job offer from an ailing Swedish tycoon (Christopher Plummer): to uncover the mystery of his niece Harriet's disappearance in 1966. He enlists the help of a resourceful girl named Lisbeth (Rooney Mara) who's obtained a surprising level of street-smartness at 23. She knows how to carry herself, but not before being mistreated by many, including the pervy social worker who doles out her allowance at the expense of her dignity more than once.

The movie is absolutely smashing entertainment, delivered with such panache and skill that you hardly notice its near three-hour running time, except for at the end a bit. The setting is perfect material for a tingling mystery. Indeed, the makers of this (and of course we must also credit the late author, Larsson) know what ingredients to put into a movie to make it exciting and suspenseful, and yet nothing seems carelessly inserted. Everything is well layered. You soon realize that what you're getting with this movie is good old-fashioned thrills merged with modern sensibilities.

It engages with the technological innovations that have so reshaped our world in the last fifteen years, without seeming too clumsy about it. On the other hand, the product placement is like a minefield. Apple products and Google searches pop up around every corner. (How do you get around Google and Macbooks these days without seeming like commercializing your entertainment?) I can give the movie a pass for that because it was so damn good.

Daniel Craig, who may also be our best Bond yet, carries the movie successfully: he's the kind of actor you're willing to believe because he's in good shape. He cares about himself and so you care about him. Mara, who had a bit part in Fincher's The Social Network, gets her turn at the wheel here, and she doesn't disappoint. She has enough brass to topple a Swedish magnate.

This movie doesn't hold back. It's refreshing to see something really vital and unbridled for a change, but it would be foolish to bring younger viewers to this, considering some of the content. (Lisbeth is raped by her disgusting case worker. He gets his in a scene that's a sort of revenge fantasy that feels morally justified but equally disturbing.)

With Robin Wright, Stellan Skarsgard, Steven Berkoff, Joely Richardson, and Embeth Davidtz. ½

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