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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

How many dysfunctions can you cram into two hours?

Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. <<© Columbia Pictures>>

To say that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a dark film is like saying Ted Bundy was a bad date.
    Rape. Beatings. Sexual sadism. And that doesn’t even cover the murder mystery at the heart of the film.
    A close adaptation of author Stieg Larsson’s equally graphic and disturbing mystery novel, director David Fincher’s (The Social Network) Girl shows you the bowels of humanity in every one of its darkly beautiful frames. Fincher’s is a second take on the best-selling novel, appearing only two years after the original Swedish film.
    The story follows disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig: The Adventures of Tintin), who is bankrupted after losing a libel suit. With his magazine in jeopardy, Blomkvist must resign and look for something to do with himself.
    Enter Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer: Beginners), a retired business magnate haunted for decades by the disappearance of his favorite niece. He suspects one of his family members murdered the girl, but he has yet to find proof. He hires Blomkvist, under the guise of writing Henrik’s autobiography, to dive into Vanger family history and ferret out the killer.
    Blomkvist isn’t interested at first, but Vanger plays his trump card: If Blomkvist finds new information, Henrik will supply him with evidence that will clear the libel charges.
    So Blomkvist delves into the mystery, finding out that most of the Vangers are Nazis, alcoholics, recluses or combinations thereof. Suddenly the idea of finding only one murderer among this crew seems daunting.
    Blomkvist finds help in the form of punk-hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara: The Social Network). But this assistant has problems of her own.
    A ward of the state, Lisbeth must report to a government bureaucrat to access the money she earns. Her newly appointed guardian is more interested in sexually assaulting her than aiding her in becoming a productive member of society.
    Who knew the land of ABBA and Volvos had such a dark side?
    Either way, the damaged odd couple makes the perfect researching team unveiling family secrets and a murderer.
    Fincher creates a stylish, faithful adaptation of Larsson’s novel. The opening credits feature a dark montage of semi-nude women, wilting flowers and black paint. Think of it as a gothic version of a James Bond credit sequence. It sets the tone for Fincher’s typical style of dark beauty and dynamic yet disturbing images.
    That’s not reviewer hyperbole: there is a rape scene that goes on for minutes and was so horrifying that some people left the theater during my screening. As a sequence, it’s brilliantly shot; as an experience it’s terrifying.
    The only problem with Fincher’s work is his fidelity to his source material. Larsson tries to put Blomkvist center stage whenever possible, but he isn’t that interesting a hero. He only has interest and urgency when pared with darkly magnetic Salander. That’s a shame, since they don’t team up until nearly an hour into the film.
    Salander herself is a bit of a problem, too, since neither Fincher nor Larsson seem to understand how revolutionary her character could have been if not tied to Blomkvist. An independent, fierce, intelligent woman, she is the perfect detective and avenging heroine — until the narrative forces her to fall into sappy love with Blomkvist. Such a mercurial and interesting woman deserves more than a typical girl-Friday role.
    The other problem is the ending, which is excruciatingly drawn out, much as it was in the book. Once the dynamic duo solves the main mystery, there’s still about 30 extra minutes of character work that drags compared to Fincher’s tidy work with the murder plot. This makes the film end on a whimper instead of a roar.
    Still, the work done by Mara as troubled Lisbeth is worth 30 minutes of dull plotting. Though Mara seems frail in her oversized clothes and dark makeup, her eyes flash with a wild ferocity that make you believe in Salander as a warrior. It’s an impressive performance full of award-worthy moments.
    Despite pacing and plot problems, Fincher’s style and Mara’s performance make a dark and entertaining thriller. Just don’t make this reviewer’s mistake of bringing her mother along without a content warning.

Good Thriller • R • 158 mins.