“The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” Movie Review

     Going in to see David Fincher's version of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", I didn't have the benefit of having seen the Swedish version nor have I read the book so the experience would most certainly be new to me.  With the film's tag line being the "The feel bad movie of Christmas", I knew to expect the signature gloomy imagery now made famous by Fincher in films like "Seven", "Zodiac", and "The Social Network".  For this type of material, the studio got the right guy for the job and he comes through in a big way.  "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" is one of the best films of the year.  It features a haunting memorable story, backed by stellar performances from the entire cast and solid direction by Fincher and his crew.  I look for "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" to find its way into the Best Picture conversation later this month.

     As you likely know, the film is based on a trilogy of books called the "Millennium Trilogy" by Swedish author Steiger Larsson as well as a 2009 Swedish film adaptation of the same name.  In the story, Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is a journalist and editor of a news magazine who has recently been convicted of libeling a powerful and politically connected industrialist.  The conviction threatens to ruin the magazine and Mikael doesn't seem to know where to turn.  He receives a phone call on Christmas Day imploring him to meet with a man who it seems is equally as powerful as the man he libeled and who says he can offer information that can overturn his conviction.  Mikael meets with Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), who at first wants to hire him to write the family memoir, but soon realizes the job entails an investigation into the 40 year old unsolved disappearance and murder of his niece Harriett.

     The deal is too good to pass up as Vanger offers Mikael financial help with his ailing magazine, plus information that will clear his name in the public's eye.  As Fincher carefully lays out that portion of the plot, he also introduces us to Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a freelance investigator used by Vanger to vet Mikael before he is hired.  A brutal subplot in the film has Lisbeth assigned to a caseworker as she is a ward of the state for past criminal activity and mental instability.  The case worker, Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen), is the most vile of people and it doesn't take him long to require favors from Lisbeth once he receives control of her finances and she must go to him to get money for living expenses.  As if the murder investigation into Harriett's death was not enough, the Lisbeth/Bjurman subplot will turn your stomach. There are two particularly grueling scenes most will look away from, but they're necessary to explain the mental state of Lisbeth later in the film.  The opening hour of the film truly sets a tone of dread like no other film in recent memory. 

     Soon, Mikael finds the murder investigation has proven too large for one person and he requests an assistant.  Vanger's attorney suggests the person whom they used to do a background on him, that being Lisbeth who immediately joins the investigation when she is told her help is needed to "find a killer of women".  In Lisbeth's early scenes, she is portrayed as a goth punk type who prefers to hang out in gay bars and sleep with women.  Strangely enough, she seems to have an immediate attraction for Mikael. With all others, she is a cold and distant person, but with Mikael she seems to want to form an intimate partnership.  She certainly knows everything about him from her previous investigation of him and perhaps she sees something of a future with him.  As there relationship begins to grow, so do the amount of leads they are presented with in solving the murder and finding the killer.

     The film is edited with razor sharp precision as our protagonists interview the many Vanger family members who all live in separate homes on a larger private island.  We meet them all and the film presents each as a possible suspect.  Some are overly helpful and some are rude when being interviewed by Mikael, but it's Lisbeth's research skills which ultimately lead to the answer.  I've purposely been vague on the film's details, as it would be a disservice to give anything away.  You will be kept guessing on a number of issues all the way until the ending and, like myself, if you haven't read the book then you will be in for a very shocking, yet satisfying movie going experience.

     As Lizbeth, Rooney Mara is excellent and deserves serious awards consideration for pulling off such a difficult character.  I rank her performance in the top 3 performances of 2011 along with Michelle Williams (My Week With Marylyn) and Charlize Theron (Young Adult).  Somehow along the way, Mara is able to make an introverted goth chick seem quite sexually appealing by the film's end and when you view this film, you'll likely see that as quite a trick.  Unfortunately for Daniel Craig, he will always be James Bond just like Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Pierce Brosnan before him.  That being said, he is also very good as Mikael, as he is the true anchor of the film and is completely solid throughout.  Steven Zaillian's adaptation of Larsson's novel is Oscar worthy, as is the vision and direction of David Fincher, who continually churns out some of the most unique films in Hollywood year after year.

     Everything in this film works.  The opening credits sequence features Bond like visuals where human figures appear to vomit black sludge all over the place and on each other to the sounds of the film's theme "Immigrant Song" by Karen O, Trent Reznor, and Atticus Ross.  The sequence definitely sets the stage for whats to come.  "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" is shocking, suspenseful, and surprisingly sexual and lives up to its billing and then some, which only leaves me wanting more.  The good news is, there is still much more to come. GRADE: A