The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Directed by: David Fincher
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara

4 out of 5 stars

Myles Herod
Entertainment Editor

A little more than a year after gaining critical acclaim for The Social Network, David Fincher is at it again, adapting another well-loved story for the big screen.

In The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Fincher seems to have extended stylistic leftovers from his previous outing and supplanted them into his newest effort with much aplomb.

Keep in mind, this is a remake – disaster could have prevailed. Luckily, the modern day auteur (seemingly unaffected by Hollywood execs) is incapable of making a bad film.

Even his worst film, Alien³, is actually so well crafted and unique in vision, that for all its problems, it manages to avoid pitfalls of a picture obviously sabotaged by producers.

On the basis of my viewing experience, the Americanized version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a stark and grittier product than its Swedish counterpart. That’s right, it’s a superior remake.

Both director, and writer (Steven Zaillian) do an intelligent job of keeping, adapting and removing various parts of the novel to benefit the film’s flow. The dialogue is natural and terse, allowing characters to consciously step on each other’s lines to add a sense of authenticity.

One of Fincher’s most undervalued talents is his attention to character nuance – avoiding clichés of stilted performances, which in essence builds the unique universes he’s so revered for.

The film follows journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and his experiences in Sweeden during the investigation of a 40-year-old murder.  Hired by the wealthy Vanger family to uncover clues to the murder, Blomkvist ends up using the assistance of an accomplished but socially awkward investigator Salander (a equally sultry and scary performance by Rooney Mara).

The bulk of the two and a half hour film consists of observing Blomkvist and Salander as they unravel the lurid mystery from the isolated Wanger Island.

By building both characters up front, the audience is compelled and completely indebted to the investigation. Fincher uses his great eye for imagery and pacing to really sell the picture – particularly in scenes that could have fallen to contrivance, or dullness.

For instance, one set piece shows the two characters in separate locations compiling research and fitting final clues together. About ten minutes into this sequence it dawned that there had been almost no meaningful dialogue. Instead, the entirety of its structure was just a series of pictures, computer screens, printed words and reaction shots. It was also one of the most intense and suspenseful sequences of any film from 2011. Saying it’s impressive would be an understatement. This is Fincher working on all cylinders.

Mara is a revelation as Lisbeth Salander.  Both physically and emotionally, she goes all-in with her portrayal. From the multiple piercings to the detailed tattoos and punk aesthetic, it’s hard to believe that it’s the same sweet girl who opened The Social Network as Mark Zuckerberg’s girlfriend.

One cannot discount Craig’s performance either – a fine partner to Mara’s bold interpretation. In addition to the two stellar lead performances, Fincher gets great acting out of Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard and Joley Richardson.

Fincher does not hold back in portraying adult material here. From two horrific rapes scenes to the depths of torture and mutilation, the film confronts uncomfortable visuals in bleak whites and murky shadows.  These scenes are necessary, though, as the audience ends up feeling empathy for the characters, which, in turn, helps ramp up tension.

Overall, this is a masterfully crafted ‘action’ film – one that makes you think as you recoil or guffaw at its sinister subject matter, or streaks of black humour imbued throughout. Fincher, again, has proven himself a master, elevating his clout amongst Hollywood’s most intriguing talents. You can call it a remake, but I prefer to think of it as a superb continuation of his style and mood so effectively refined in 2010’s The Social Network. Heck, he even got Trent Reznor to come back and do the score.

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