Variable Zero

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011) Movie Review

After taking in what was thought to be the smoking gun behind one of Sweden's most powerful men by what was thought to be a trusted source, left-leaning publishing legend, Mikael Blomkvist has taken a massive legal hit, rendering him and his magazine in dire straits. In the interim of this near career catastrophy, he is suddenly contacted by a legal representative for one Henrik Vanger, former CEO, and elder lead of one of the country's most influential families. Haunted by mysterious mails containing a single framed flower for every year following a great family tragedy dating back to the 1960s. Vanger's hope is that the shamed Blomkvist could piece together the puzzle regarding his fractured, unstable family who mostly reside on the island of Hedestad along with him as winter ice relentlessly caps the region. The reluctant newsman almost refuses, until Vanger with his great influence and wealth, offers up a possible information bounty that could redeem him, securing his magazine's future. Meanwhile, in Stockholm, Lisbeth Salander, a young, withdrawn & dangerous information gathering genius who has been working under the table for one of the world's most respected security firms has fallen into hard times. Whether Blomkvist is prepared or not, an unlikely alliance is about to form, and a brutal mystery from decades past may prove to be their undoing.

Having mildly enjoyed the original Milennium novels, as well as the Niels Arden Oplev films, one could easily write this huge-budgeted remake as little more than a glossy paycheck for a director who has come quite a ways in nearly 20 years of filmmaking, and for the most part, they'd be considered pinpoint accurate. Working from a script by Oscar favorite, Steve Zaillian, and employing much of the same crew that led Fincher to great heights with last year's The Social Network, this take on the plane-fiction favorite is a classy, often beautiful piece of work. But the core question, as with most even halfway decent remake of a foreign film, is why bother? There is no real good reason as to why. Like so many puzzling studio execs seem to display, there is a severe lack of faith in works that audiences may have to make a little extra effort to enjoy. And it isn't merely the lack of subtitles that makes this version a little strange and borderline cold, it is an unerring lack of dirt or nuance that almost makes the film a sleek, sanitized version of the story, with very little grit to ground it in anything resembling the often grotesque humanity on display. Even for a director who delved into some of the grungiest depths of human depravity in the groundbreaking SE7EN, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is almost bizarrely bereft of gravity, so much so that it practically floats.

Most suspect of the film's problems lie within the script, which take some deep liberties with how the story is told, often to the detriment of characterization which originally was one of the factors that made the originals stand out. From granting the tethers of Blomkvist's life from on and off lover & business partner, Erika Berger (Robin Wright) , and his daughter, Pernilla (Josefin Asplund) time on the island, one almost feels as if the film is eschewing much of the original story's sense of deep isolation, and going out of its way to make the central lead more likeable- which Daniel Craig does a decent enough job of doing without. So many moments prior to his meeting with Salander, which takes up nearly an hour-plus before this happens, seem hell bent on this that it almost undoes emphasis on the investigation itself which almost borders on becoming less a mystery, and more a matter of revelations falling into their laps. If there was anything that Oplev's films did well, was characterize just how labyrinthian the Vanger family's ties made for an engrossing little mystery. In many places, the mystery seems a lot less of a concern here for Fincher, and that his real aim was in expanding upon certain themes he played upon in Social Network, largely regarding personal boundaries, and privacy. One almost might think that he expects viewers to be familiar enough with the source materials in order for him to highlight the relationship between the two leads, which only offers middling results if any. Perhaps the biggest problems come when the film seems required to inform us of their personal stakes in the matter, and never really plays things as honestly as they probably should. It's all more pat than it ever was before, and that's a problem, especially in a film that depicts violence against women the way this one does. The tale between Blomkvist and Salander was never one of love so much as a hint of trust.- in this the film commits its greatest sin, and it almost never recovers from this.

The film's visual and sonic palette however is almost so uniformly gorgeous, one could almost give it highest kudos for being borderline clinical in nearly every respect. From scenic snowy vistas, to near hospital white walls, and humming grays, the cinematography by Fincher favorite, Jeff Cronenweth is immaculate and painterly. Which is countered nicely by the ever nervous intensity of the music provided by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross which perhaps provides the film with the kind of bleak beauty more of the film needed. In fact, alongside which is an impressively out of place credit sequence at the beginning, one might even regard Fincher's Dragon Tattoo as something of a showcase piece no different than his 2002 effort, Panic Room, only with a moodier score. There is infinitely more weight in the craft on display here than is story, which is strange since upon closer inspection, Oplev's films were clearly inspired by directors like Fincher, and yet offered much more in the way of sprawling narrative that the book inspires.

Again, performances are solid enough, only really hampered by a script that seems less ready to delve deeper than it probably should. Rooney Mara is a pretty good Salander, albeit far cuter and domestic than she's ever been portrayed before. She lacks the rage and nuance of Noomi Rapace, but she offers just enough to make her memorable. Daniel Craig's Blomkvist is also a fairly good turn for a man who seems ready to shoulder the everyman hero just as much as a superspy. He lacks the scruffy charm of Michael Nyqvist, but does well enough the same. Also more than welcome is work by Stellan SkarsgÄrd, Christopher Plummer, Joely Richardson and others.

It's just too bad so much of this talent on display seems so used in the name of what is ostensibly lacking in power where it should. As it is, Fincher's first foray into the Milennium trilogy is akin to a sleek, ergonomically brilliant piece of technology based on previous concepts, only with a new design, and half the features. There is clearly a lot of lovely work on display, but at the service of what eludes me.