Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011) - Theatrical Review


Release Date: December 21, 2011

I had some pretty high expectations for this movie. After all the great things I had heard about the novels and the subsequent Swedish films then hearing of David Fincher's involvement, I knew this was most likely a sure thing. Once again Fincher does not disappoint.

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 30 at the Block in Orange
Time: 8:30 pm December 26, 2011
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 2 hrs 40 min
Studio: Columbia/Tri-star

Loves: David Fincher, unconvential relationships
Likes: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, murder mysteries
Neutral: Long set ups
Hates: That I have to wait another couple years for the next film
Disclaimer: I have never seen the Swedish film trilogy

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a true return to form for director David Fincher. Not that his recent films have been bad, quite the contrary actually, but he seemed to be straying further and further away from the more pulpy genres that have littered most of his career. The Social Network and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button were fine films and showed that Fincher was maturing as a director, not just in his liberal use of fancy camera movements but also in telling stories that had much more dramatic weight behind them than his previous works. My personal favorites of his however still include Seven, Fight Club, The Game and Zodiac. Those may not be the type of films that go on to win awards but I'll be damned if they aren't entertaining. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo falls more in line with those handful of films artistically, story wise and thematically which I absolutely love. David Fincher has returned to the world of pulp entertainment and I couldn't be happier.

Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is in the middle of some major legal entanglements that has left him financially depleted. While still dealing with the fallout of his previous job, a new employment opportunity arises for the journalist in the form of Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer). He requires Mikael's investigative expertise as well as his journalistic integrity for discretion concerning a missing persons case dating back almost thirty years. Mikael takes the job and amidst a family full of liars, thieves and criminals he must determine what happened to Vanger's missing niece which eventually becomes too much for him too handle alone. Only when he hires the reclusive and extremely talented Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) does he begin to finally piece together the mystery that has haunted the Vanger estate for generations.

You'd be best not to judge Lisbeth by her appearance.

There is a lot going on in this movie. It never feels overloaded though, the disparate pieces that all start out as individual stories all eventually come together in a much more satisfying manner than I think they would have in any other directors hands. It takes a talented filmmaker to weave together a tapestry of intertwining stories in a way that feels both organic to the narrative and keeps the audience guessing until the very end and Fincher was the right man for the job this time around it seems. It didn't really hit me until after the film was over that for the better part of the films extremely long running time, there was a lot of time devoted to story arcs and smaller mysteries that were seemingly completely unrelated to the big mystery at the heart of the film. I suppose I didn't really think about it while watching the film because of how well all those pieces came together in the end.

The movie is a murder mystery though, plain and simple. It is just one that has much bigger ambitions than your typical murder mystery movie. I appreciated the slow methodical approach the film took in getting us to know the core characters we were going to be following for the next two plus hours. Everything with Mikael's financial woes helped paint the picture of a man who was not only desperate to get out of the limelight for a while but also someone that wanted to get his life back on track. By the time he takes the job Vanger offers him I completely understood why he would take on such a seemingly impossible task as solving a thirty year old disappearance. But just because I understood his motivations didn't change the fact that I never really felt like he was all that interesting of a character.

Mikael's investigations take him to some unexpected places.

It's not Daniel Craig's fault either, he does a fine job as the investigating journalist. His eagerness to solve the mystery as well as his excitement whenever a new clue is found was fairly engaging. I just found the character (as written) to be unremarkable. Craig infuses his usual charm into the character which helped give him a much more rugged and beaten down persona than we would have gotten otherwise but an actors talents can only transcend the written word so much. It has been a hard year for Daniel Craig, between last summers amazingly banal Cowboys & Aliens and the horror/thriller Dream House (remember that one...I didn't think so) he has been searching exhaustively for something to be associated with other than everyones favorite spy in a tuxedo. While I don't think anyone will remember the movie solely because of him, I do think this is one of the best characters he has played in quite a while.

For all of Daniel Craig's gifts as an engaging actor though, if Mikael had been the ONLY main character in the film then I think I would have fallen asleep halfway through it. Thankfully he has some back up, both metaphorically and literally in this case. Lisbeth Salandar is without a doubt my favorite character I have had the pleasure of spending a couple hours with in a movie all year. It is easy to dismiss her as one note with no personality to speak of but I believe the character (and Rooney Mara) does a marvelous job of pulling the wool over everyones eyes in this case. I wasn't too impressed the first time she appeared on screen. The meeting she has concerning Mikael and her investigation on him left me with a sour impression. I had started to fear that she was going to be nothing more than your typical goth girl who also just so happens to be a genius. Oh how wrong I was.

Mikael and Lisbeth meet for the first time.

The subtlety of Rooney Mara's performance is a wonder to behold and something that should not be overlooked, as is the actress's willingness to throw her vanity aside (it is rare to find an actress so willing to downplay her natural beauty). As the film progresses we get to see, and more importantly understand, her in a way I was caught off guard by. She is depicted as being some sort of insane and unstable genius, someone that trusts no one and doesn't let anyone get too close to her physically or emotionally (calling her distant would be a severe understatement). The early parts of the film where we see how she pays the bills leaves nothing to the imagination about what kind of life she has led and that is when a funny thing started to happen...I genuinely started to care for her a little bit despite her mental instabilities. The more time I spent with her the more I started to care and I was surprised on more than one occasion with how vulnerable she eventually becomes and how emotionally invested I became in her livelihood. 

What I loved most though is how we see that protective veil of hers start to whither away the moment she meets Mikael. Up to that point she had no reason to trust anyone, let alone a man. Her gut reaction to his unwelcome presence in her apartment showed her to not only be confused but intrigued by this man who wasn't treating her like trash. It was at that moment when one of the most unconventional love stories in any film this year began. Their partnership was at the core of what made the movie work. The mystery they are working together to unravel was good but I found myself constantly wishing for more time with Mikael and Lisbeth. Where their professional and personal relationship eventually goes was also one of the most gut wrenching outcomes I have experienced in a very long time. I felt betrayed when it was all over (but not in bad way) and I can't remember the last time I reacted like that to any movie.

Lisbeth isn't to be trifled with.

The only time I felt like the film stumbled at all was when Mikael and Lisbeth were not working together which unfortunately is how the bulk of the first hour is structured. I don't know if you have heard but this movie is long. Normally that isn't an issue but when the movie FEELS long it isn't usually a good thing. Where it gets complicated is whether or not that stuff in the beginning was completely necessary for the story being told. Like I said, there is a lot of set up and with that comes a whole lot character moments that are used to help define them. Now if the movie had been primarily about the mystery of a missing girl then I would say no because almost nothing in that first hour has anything to do with that part of the story. However, since the personal stories of Mikael and Lisbeth become so much more important as the film progresses I feel as though those early moments were very necessary. Would I have cared as much about Lisbeth if I had not seen what her life was like before meeting Mikael? Probably, but not nearly as much.

It's a fine line deciding what to include and what not, especially where translating a novel to the screen is concerned. But I think Fincher did the best he could here, while I still believe there may have been a better way to get the audience invested in the characters I also don't really think it was done poorly either. Those early moments weren't the only thing to cause the film to feel longer than it was, there is a moment in the middle of the film (or maybe more towards the end) where I GUARANTEE that you will think the movie is over. The story at that point feels resolved for the most part with only a couple of unresolved issues but the problem is that it keeps going and going and going. In hindsight there were three movies worth of content infused into this one very long movie. I didn't notice it much while watching it but it definitely feels like that after the fact. The false ending would be a problem only if everything that happens after it were uninteresting but surprisingly that is where some of the best moments in the film happen, especially where Lisbeth is concerned. Take this as more of a warning than a negative, the fact that the film runs a little long, and it feels like it, isn't a negative. It would be if any of that time felt padded out for no reason but I cannot think of one solitary scene I would take out.

Lisbeth and Mikael become more than just work partners.

I haven't talked much about the look of the movie but if you have ever seen a David Fincher movie then you know what to expect. The man is meticulous in his framing of shots and is the current master of using digital trickery to alter the look of his films without it ever showing. Other than the color palette and a few choice shots where he shows off his camera work though it didn't completely feel like a Fincher film to me. He was much more reserved here than usual which is something I think he picked up while making The Social Network. That isn't necessarily a bad thing mind you, the film still looks gorgeous, it just feels like with each new movie we get from him the less he resembles his older (and arguably better) films. I am just happy that he decided to tackle a movie that isn't intended to win awards, he is just trying to make the best possible murder mystery movie you have ever seen and mostly succeeds.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of the years best films, I have no doubt in that. It succeeded in meeting just about every expectation I had for it and then some. Like most of David Fincher's films, you go in expecting one thing and come away from the experience with so much more than you ever imagined. Whether or not this is true because of the novel it is based off is up for debate but it doesn't change how rich the viewing experience was. The film looks beautiful, has some fine performances (including a star making performance from Rooney Mara), is a fun mystery when it gets going and provides the audience with some great twists and turns along the way. It may not be the best movie we got this winter (that honor goes to Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol) but that doesn't change the fact that if you are looking for a deep, complex and rewarding film going experience you should still...




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