By: Juan Barquin/Columnist
When stepping into David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” one should be warned to leave all expectations at the door. Whether you’ve read the novel or seen the Swedish film, you’re better off being ready for a new experience instead of preparing to compare and contrast. It was a risky choice to bring a film as dark and relentless as this to American audiences, but it was a risk well worth taking.
The film follows Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a journalist who after being accused of libel is now working for the wealthy businessman Henrik Vagner (Christopher Plummer). Vanger has hired Blomkvist to investigate the forty year old disappearance of his niece in exchange for a large sum of money and some useful information.
He is joined by Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a social outcast who seems to have more wrong in her life than right. Between her eye for detail and their combined investigative ability, Blomkvist and Salander dig deep into the Vagner family history – discovering secrets that may lead them into a dangerous world.
From the film’s opening credits, Fincher already lures the audience into something stylish and evocative. At times the film even echoes one of his earlier films, “Zodiac.” Both are very dialogue based and deal with the topic of an unsolved investigation, but somehow this one manages to be more tense and captivating than his previous work.
Steven Zaillian’s writing does a great job at bringing the Swedish novel to English speaking audiences. It manages to keep the dark edge that the story has intact, and also adds a few surprises that fans of the novel or Swedish film may not have expected. There’s also plenty of light humor laced throughout, like the amusing inclusion of a cat that Blomkvist grows fond of during the investigation.
Practically every shot in the film is visually appealing, even when the most grotesque of images is being shown. Jeff Cronenweth, who has worked with Fincher on “The Social Network” and “Fight Club,” is able to capture the beauty of Sweden, covered in layers of snow that add to the mysterious atmosphere of the film.
As for the film’s use of music, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross strike again with an almost haunting score that fills many of the scenes. One of the most notable and chilling uses of sound editing is wind, especially the sharp whistling sound it makes in pure silence.
Rooney Mara is stunning in her role as Lisbeth. For those who do not know, the character is one full of raw and traumatic background, and Mara truly takes the role to heart.
Her devotion can be seen through her performance, humanizing her character and giving a certain vulnerability to the harsh pierced and tattooed woman she is portraying. Whether she is dressed in Salander’s punk wardrobe or completely nude, there is something eerily tantalizing about Mara that keeps your eyes focused on her.
Daniel Craig brings a boldness to Blomkvist that we’ve seen in him before, although it feels more genuine with a character like this. Being a Bond man, he has the sly nature that makes him a good lead, but even in his best moments he doesn’t steal the spotlight from those around him.
When it comes to the rest of the cast, Stellan Skarsgård delivers a very subtle performance, only revealing his wonderfully demented self when necessary. Christopher Plummer doesn’t get much screen time, but makes a fine head of the Vagner household, while Yorick van Wageningen brings Lisbeth’s wicked caretaker to the screen, making you loathe him more with each passing moment.
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is definitely a film that isn’t for everybody. It’s a lengthy film, clocking in at over two and a half hours, that is heavily dialogue based and includes some rough scenes that some may be unable to stomach. Regardless of this, audiences who make it through the film will be pleased to find themselves engaged by a smart and captivating thriller that doesn’t let up.