Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Director: David Fincher                               Writer: Steven Zaillian
Film Score: Trent Reznor                            Cinematography: Jeff Cronenweth
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer and Stellan Skarsgård

The last time a film haunted me for days afterward was David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Well, it happened again when I watched The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I have to admit I’m developing a real affinity for European films. There is something so different, so real, so . . . grown up about Europe that I can’t help being drawn to it. The film is, of course, based on the best selling novel by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson. It’s very interesting to note that the murder mystery itself is rather conventional but, as I said earlier with The Transporter, what makes it unique is the European setting, and in the end that’s a lot. Once again, Fincher has made a powerful movie that is incredibly commercial and yet incredibly satisfying at the same time.

Daniel Craig is an investigative journalist who has lost a libel suit. At the same time someone is doing an investigation on Craig, and though initially it appears this has something to do with the trial, the investigation is actually a preface to Craig being hired by tycoon Christopher Plummer to find out who killed his niece decades before. The person doing the investigative work on Craig is Rooney Mara, the title character. Her struggle with life as a ward of the state, is a film in itself, and does a lot to explain her character. But when Craig reaches a difficult point in his murder investigation and sees the work she has done on him, he convinces her to help him. Plummer’s family are all suspects. They are the usual highly dysfunctional relatives we see in the super rich, and yet they all live cheek and jowl together on a small island in the north of Sweden.

The actual murder mystery in the story isn’t all that unique, and so it’s the actors who really make this film work. Daniel Craig is so good it makes one sad that he has mired himself in the James Bond films, but that may be coming to an end soon. As an investigator he is very well cast and his maneuvers in the European milieu are wonderful. It’s also fantastic to see Stellan Skarsgård again. He's a commanding character actor who is on his home turf in Sweden and makes the most of it. Robin Wright is a nice addition as well. But at the end of the day this is Rooney Mara’s film. If she hadn’t been going up against Meryl Streep I’m convinced she would have won the Academy Award that year--though I still think she deserved it more than Streep. Mara’s performance is so convincing, so genuine that every movement, every reaction is real and it makes her struggle real as well.

This was not an easy film for me to watch, especially with what happens to Mara. The original title of Larsson’s novel was Men Who Hate Women, and the story is certainly that. I still haven’t been able to shake the images. Despite what happens eventually in the film, there are some acts for which there is no revenge, absolutely no way to even the score. It’s a haunting film. David Fincher is a director with a brilliant touch and a way of telling a story that is incredibly moving: Se7en, The Fight Club, Zodiac, and the list goes on. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is just the latest example of his extraordinary gifts.

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