Monday, January 2, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

First Swedish author Stieg Larsson wrote a blockbuster series of books, The Millennium Trilogy (named for the magazine of which his protagonist is co-publisher and owner), the first of which was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The books were all published posthumously.
Then Sweden made films of each of the books, to critical acclaim befitting movies based on the praised books.
Now, David Fincher has made the first book into the 2011 movie of the same name.
For better or worse, I have not yet read the books, nor did I see the Swedish films. So I came in cold, with expectations that this could be something special.
I was not disappointed. The filmmaker who brought us such diverse movies as Fight Club, Se7en, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and The Social Network, has created a flawless film.
That said, this film isn’t for everyone. For instance, the squeamish or easily-offended viewer will recoil at the violence, nudity, sexuality, and sadism within. There is also one scene that cat-lovers will hate.

The setting is Sweden. Mikael, a disgraced journalist who loses a libel suit after exposing a corrupt businessman (Daniel Craig) and his newly-acquired freelance research assistant Lisbeth (Rooney Mara), team up to write a biography of a wealthy scion Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) while actually investigating the disappearance and presumed death of his great-niece nearly 40 years earlier. Henrik and his family all live on a family-owned island, in separate mansions, of course. They are estranged, dysfunctional, unlikable (two of Henrik’s brothers were enthusiastic Nazis), and decidedly unforthcoming. Enter Martin Vanger, Henrik’s great-nephew, now CEO of the Vanger Corp. (Stellan Skarsgard), whose home looms over all on the island. These are just some of the many players. If you want to keep them all straight, you might google a cheat-sheet before going to the theater.
Mikael moves into a caretaker’s cottage on Henrik’s estate to research his book. It’s a barely livable space with heat, in the bitter Swedish winter, hard to come by.
Everyone turns in stunning performances, none more amazing that Mara’s portrayal of the sullen Lisbeth. She’s my pick for Best Actress. (Hey, if Natalie Portman can win for Black Swan, another very dark performance, then surely Mara can!)
I’d try to explain the plot, but it’s just too complicated. If you pay close attention you can follow it all, though, as the mystery unfolds through some ingenious sleuthing. There is an aura of danger throughout that permeates the theater. Sweden is yet another star, showing us a seldom-seen backdrop which is fascinating if sunless.
I loved the controlled performance of Craig, who is decidedly less glamorous than James Bond. These characters are all flawed, and yet we find something to like in almost all of them, something to root for.
The images in my head won’t go away, even as time passes. This is probably perceived as an “art” film, or at least an “arty” one, but I think it is just a dark mainstream film with a lot of plot and a lot of courage not to flinch.
Some of the situations and images are very hard to experience, but they help to bring out the character of those wounded souls.
As I said, not for everyone, but for those who go after knowing what to expect, you will be rewarded with superb acting and plenty of quiet thrills. It’s like the train wreck that you can’t turn your eyes away from.
Oscar material for sure.
Four reels (out of four)!

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