The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

David Fincher closes out of his Facebook to take on a remake of the Swedish film The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, based on the first installment of a trilogy of novels.  I sat through this film, encompassed by the calculated grim atmosphere, taken in by the stylish cinematography, and ultimately slapped around by the incessant violence.  Ignore the snowy landscapes.  Dragon Tattoo is utterly and completely the anti-Christmas film of the season as it so proudly advertises.

Daniel Craig plays investigative journalist, Mikael, undergoing a major setback in his career that has him crawling out from an under a lawsuit.  As an escape for Mikael, he accepts an invitation to a Swedish island from aging Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to unearth a 40-year-old missing person case—Harriet Vagner (Henrik’s niece), a young girl who was abducted and likely murdered—her body was never found.  Mikael leaves his boss and lover (Robin Wright) back at the office to isolate himself in a tiny house on the island where he studies old photographs and police investigation reports, while also conducting interviews of the family members scattered within close radius on the island.

Meanwhile, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) is introduced as an intelligent, and mightily troubled 24-year-old woman working as a private investigator.  Her life has been and continues to be flooded with trauma.  She undergoes sexual abuse from an overseeing guardian responsible for withholding her monetary earnings, and generally is mistreated by all the men that occupy her life.  She’s cold, quiet, pierced, tattooed, gothic-looking, bisexual, and every adjective that might make a 65-year-old white businessman uncomfortable.  Midway into the film, she partners with Mikael, both professionally and otherwise, to piece together the puzzle of the long-missing Harriet.

David Fincher, an auteur when it comes to such material, displays a deft hand for sinking audiences into uncomfortable darkness.  Zodiac, Seven, The Game, and others have become his bread and butter, so it’s no surprise that he’s drawn to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  This is almost certainly his darkest film yet.  What holds him back from greatness here is the source novel which screenwriter Steven Zaillian attempts to translate over a very, very long 2 hour and 40 minute runtime.  If the mystery were as engulfing as it ought to be, the film might not be as tough of a sit, but the film meanders before sinking its teeth in, and treads water for 30 minutes after the film climaxes.  While Fincher often had me enraptured in the film’s most piercing and horrific sequences, the whole is missing a few pieces.

Both Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig commit to their roles completely, especially Mara.  She’s uncomfortable and intoxicating in the role.  Craig has a cool confidence that exudes James Bond (go figure), and offsets his internal desperation.  However, their teaming happens much later in the film than I was anticipating.  And their sexual affair threw me for a loop.  Not because Craig is about twice her age, but because the spark between the two is missing.  There’s no chemistry, there’s no heat, and even less plausibility.  The character of Lisbeth wields her sexuality like a weapon, but there’s little buildup between her and Mikael.

It must also be noted that the film unleashes some of the most shocking scenes ever filmed.  Fincher’s eye never shies away from the graphic nature of the story.  Nothing goes implied here.  It’s all onscreen.  I’m guessing the novel did the same.  Anyone interested in seeing this film needs to be prepared for some horrific depictions of torture and rape.  It’s blood-curdling, and stomach-twisting.  The scenes emphasize the horror endured by Lisbeth and that has shattered here trust in men, until Mikael offers her a first brushing of kindness that draws her to him.

Where does that leave me with this film?  I walked out of the screening without the slightest guess as to how I responded to it.  I know it’s certainly not in line with Fincher’s best work.  The chemistry between the leads was also lacking, or simply not amped up enough.  No amount of onscreen intimacy can generate chemistry.  However, the performances were right.  The mood of the film carried me through.  The cinematography captured the ugliest corners of this cold world.  The film’s ending left me wondering where the characters go next.  I cringed, I looked away, but I was also pulverized by this film.  And I don’t know if that’s good or bad.  I’m certain that’s what Fincher wanted.  I won’t ‘recommend’ this film to anyone.  It’s impossible to enjoy, there is only enduring.  But overall, the film does exactly what it’s designed to do in a compelling way.

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