Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo begins violently and promisingly with a characteristically stylish opening credits sequence full of portending imagery, all cut rhythmically to Karen O and Trent Reznor’s vicious cover of “Immigrant Song.” The film finds Fincher working within his familiar wheelhouse of darkness and dread which he specialized with in Se7en and Zodiac. All of the key elements are present, from Trent Reznor’s haunting score, to Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter’s decisive editing, and Jeff Cronenweth’s precisely composed photography. However, despite Fincher’s attempts to do his best Polanski impression, one finds that Dragon Tattoo is lacking in genuine substance. Fincher’s film is meticulously crafted and finely acted, but remains strictly focused on its plot. All the of surface elements are there, but there is not as much psychological depth as one might hope for.

I will begin by saying that I have never read Steig Larsson’s original novel, which I understand possessed greater plot intricacy, which the film had to streamline in order to fit into a two and half hour runtime. Nevertheless, there isn’t too much in Dragon Tattoo which is deeply complex or confusing. Set in cold and bleak in Sweden (is it ever anything else?), the film begins by chronicling the lives of its two protagonists before their lives intertwine. The first, Mikael Blomkvist (the consistent Daniel Craig), is a recently disgraced journalist who is hired by an aging, wealthy patriarch, Henrik Vanger, to investigate a cold case 40-year old mystery about the disappearance and murder of a woman related to him. The second, Lisbeth Salander (from whom the film takes its title), is an expert computer hacker with a dark and damaged past. Psychologically damaged, Lisbeth has a deep seeded loathing for men, especially those who abuse women. As Blomkvist delves deeper into the family history of the Vanger family, he finds that his best option is to find a research assistant, which is where Lisbeth figures into the narrative. Of all the performances, Rooney Mara’s portrayal of Lisbeth is the most captivating. Perhaps it is because of her radically different visage in comparison to her previous appearance on screen in Fincher’s The Social Network, but in any case, she conveys tremendous control and assurance every time she appears onscreen, to such a degree that James Bond himself becomes intimidated by her.

As with all of his films, David Fincher maintains a supreme amount of control over all of the production and post production elements. The photography by Jeff Cronenweth superbly conveys the bleakness and harshness of the Swedish landscape, as much of the color is drained from the film’s palette. Even flashback scenes to the the 1960’s are characterized by a subtle yet sickly green that has become a hallmark in Fincher’s films of an ugliness hiding just under the surface of things. The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is fittingly haunting, yet does not quite stand out as a driving force behind the picture as it did with The Social Network. Where that film pulsated from scene to scene, Fincher decidedly lays back a bit with Dragon Tattoo, allowing things to take their time. That is not necessarily an immediate fault, but the film ultimately lacks a sense of urgency. Even once it becomes apparent that Lisbeth and Mikael’s lives could be in danger, little is done to convey that fact cinematically or even in dialogue. Nevertheless, the editing by Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter remains the film’s most impressive asset. Prior to their meeting, which does not happen until a good hour in, Mikael and Lisbeth’s stories are masterfully crosscut between each other, and give the two a sense of unity, even though they have never met. When the film finally arrives at more suspenseful or even downright grisly moments (of which there are plenty) the editing precisely conveys to the audience the implicit and the explicit.

For all of the evident mastery of cinematic tools at his disposal in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, David Fincher can’t quite carry across the elements most critical to the film’s success or failure: the human struggle. Fincher’s films have always had a cold polish to them, with little room for sentimentality, and I did not expect anything different in this case, but I feel more could have been done to convey the characters’ internal doubts and suspicions about themselves and each other. For instance, prior to taking on Lisbeth as his assistant, Mikael does not honestly seem to have much difficulty in piecing things together during his investigation, and encounters few roadblocks along the way. With such a powerful grasp on atmospherics, Fincher might have been able to do more in creating conflict within Mikael, simply with the fact that he is on an island, isolated from everything. Additionally, despite giving us a brutal look into the true nature of Lisbeth, Mikael seems to gain her trust a little too quickly. The two become intimately linked fairly quickly, and the arc of that relationship doesn’t seem to work. With as much meticulous investigation as there is in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on both a narrative and cinematic level, the most important piece of evidence remains missing: the human soul.

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~ by romancinema on December 24, 2011.

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