MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Neo-Noir Psychological Thriller/Stars: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorick van Wageningen, Joely Richardson, Goran Višnjić, Donald Sumpter, Ulf Friberg, Geraldine James, Embeth Davidtz, Josefin Asplund, Per Myrberg, Gustaf Hammarsten, Tony Way, Fredrik Dolk, Alan Dale, Leo Bill, Elodie Yung, Joel Kinnaman, Julian Sands/ Runtime: 158 minutes
The imperfections of humanity, secrets of an ominous and foreboding nature, misunderstandings, and a wide variety of biases/stereotypes. These are the key and essential ingredients to the narrative of the 2011 cinematic take on the novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Indeed here is a tale that is filled with a group of characters who are quite distinct both in the public eye and behind closed doors when you remove all the things that define them on a superficial level. I mean this is the kind of saga that makes heroes out of not only someone who, by all outward appearances, is a social pariah, but also a philandering and not exactly youthful or full of integrity journalist and villains out of people who are supposed to represent the economic pinnacle of society. Yet for how much the film seems to refuse to embrace convention, I think that’s honestly why both critics and the casual movie goer seem to have embraced this as well as they did. That’s because life and the secrets that a life can hold close aren’t exactly defined by what you see on the surface. How true that is however I will leave you to discover, but one thing I can promise you: by the time you make your way through this phenomenally acted and helmed labyrinth of darkness you’ll never look at anyone the same way again.
The plot is as follows: The movie gets underway as we see that a member of the community known as journalism by the name of Mikael Blomkvist has just been slapped with the label of slanderer in a case involving a not exactly nice article he wrote involving a Swedish business magnate. Yet as he is in the midst of going on a self-imposed hiatus, whilst leaving the magazine in the care of his co-owner/occasional shag Erika Berger, we see that Mikael is contacted by a lawyer who represents a prominent member of the community named Henrik Vanger who wishes to meet with him. Intrigued, we see our hero decide to meet with the guy and finds himself given a business opportunity in the form of finding out what happened involving the eerie vanishing act and assumed demise of Henrik’s granddaughter Harriet some 4-decades prior to the start of the story and something that has been a focus of Henrik’s life ever since it happened. In exchange, Henrik won’t just pay our hero a lovely sum of cash, but also give him legit dirt on the man who accused him of libel. Suffice it to say that Mikael decides to look into things, but under the cover that he is who Henrik has asked to pen a history of Henrik’s family. However, as our hero digs deeper and finds out some things that have been under wraps for some time, he soon realizes he’s going to need an assistant if he wishes to dig further. It is with that in mind that we see our hero is given the recommendation of a young woman by the name of Lisbeth Salander for the position. Miss Salander we see is someone who, despite society labeling her as a pariah and a ward of the state, is actually a top-flight investigator and hacker who works for an investigating firm. Suffice it to say her own personal episodes with secretive people gives her extra incentive to take part in this investigation and working alongside Mikael gives her the chance to actually get to show emotions she hasn’t had the chance to in quite a while. Suffice it to say that as the truth behind this case starts to come forth and the bond between Mikael and Lisbeth grows, we see our dynamic duo start to find themselves coming under attack by people who would rather have the past stay that way at any cost.
Now it is worth noting that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a wonderful blend of both present day social analysis and the iconic murder puzzlers of yesterday and it does it in a manner that no one had really tried to before courtesy of utilizing the enigma at the center of the story as an opportunity to show that people aren’t inherently good or evil, but rather that they are just as complicated as 98% of everything else in life. Suffice it to say this is most assuredly not a film where the hero is an impeccably-dressed, and decent at heart person who puts all the clues together, locates the guilty party, extracts a confession, and watches as the villain is thus taken off to jail to spend the rest of their days. Rather, this is a modern-day saga where the only thing that’s clear is the breath our characters see whilst out in the chilly winter air. Indeed this narrative, much like a lot of the characters, is unnerving, unbalanced, and bleak as all get out, but the riveting hook is in how this film compares/contrasts those who are supposed to be our heroes and those who are supposed to be our antagonists. Indeed this is a film that is quite vocal about how our heroes are blindsided by prejudices, biases, and other stereotypes that are often hurled at them. Indeed in the case of Lisbeth, we see that her life is molded by the fact that the majority of people she crosses paths with judge her based on how she looks on the outside, how young she is, the fact that she is female, or who assume the worst of her merely because of what is recorded about her in a file by city officials who see her as someone who isn’t capable of positive growth and/or change. Thus this narrative challenges you, the viewer to look past what you see on the outside and instead critique the characters in this movie more so by their actions. Yes neither of our main characters in this are moral people through and through thus resulting in a lot of the narrative being entrenched in a kind of moral quagmire. At the same time though, this movie may make some pretty grotesque overstatements, but it certainly gets its point across in a way that is both pointed and also quite articulate.
Now iconic film helmer David Fincher does do a fantastic job at giving us this particular narrative from both perspectives. Sure he may put less emphasis on the character analysis from a structural point of view, but he also makes sure to strengthen it back up with a lot of the more expansive thematic concepts at play. At the same time though, this movie does quite off run the risk of being so bleak, so chilly, and so unnerving that audiences won’t want to go any further with it than they already have plus it also makes the visual tone a bit harder for a director to pull off. Indeed this is one movie that doesn’t have much if any in the way of brightness to it. Rather, it’s quite potent from a thematic perspective and gray from a narrative perspective with the only light coming from the fact that things do finally get perhaps a bit clearer in the second half of the film. Even then though, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one movie that chooses to operate with a style that will leave you, the viewer to some degree or another fairly uncomfortable. Not only that, but Fincher does not give you any indicator for what you are going to witness either. Yet as astonishing as this narrative gets, Fincher still chooses to play it on the level whilst refusing to flinch in showing it either. I mean if anything, only Fincher’s bleak style is any prelude of what is on the horizon, but even with that in mind we still see a lot of the more seedy details are left adrift in the transition from book to cinema. Yes the book does give the story more room to breathe, but in Fincher’s hands he is able to clearly show us all the despicable individuals and their various schemes. Thus although this movie does check all the right boxes, but at the same time I would definitely read the novel before giving this film a view since it both definitely aids in putting all the pieces together that the film throws a much sharper focus on and gives you a chance to see the cast of characters really operate with the key theme of the story in terms of judging people based off how they look on the outside rather than take the time to get to know who they are on the inside.
Now when you have a group of characters that are this fairly complicated, you need a group of performers who are all capable of giving three-dimensional performances. Suffice it to say this is one movie that is able to do so even if the clear highlight is the phenomenal work done by Rooney Mara in the role of Lisbeth Salander. Indeed on a superficial perspective, Mara does a great job at looking like Lisbeth. Of course, its one thing to give us an external three dimensional performance, but it’s another thing to give us a character that is three dimensional on the inside as well. Thankfully, Mara does a wonderful job of doing that as well and gives us a performance that is just as much about who this young woman is on the inside as it is about who she is on the outside as well. Indeed what she does and how she feels is portrayed seemingly quite organic to the point that Mara gives us easily one of the more low key still quite riveting and potent performances in a movie of this ilk in some time. We also get a fine performance in this from James Bond ehhhh Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist as he does quite well in a part that is more in line with his work in Knives Out than as a certain legendary spy. Now even with that in mind, Craig’s character doesn’t exactly transition over to the silver screen on the same level of Lisbeth, but that is more due to how the runtime doesn’t give him as much development as the novel does….and because Mara just gives that phenomenal of a performance. Even with that in mind, Craig does give a fairly riveting performance even if it’s still slightly overwhelmed by the work done by Mara and the wonderful helmsmanship of film director Fincher both which work with significantly more degrees of subtlety than the work done in this by Craig.
All in all I think it is quite safe to say that if you wished to it, you could easily pen an entire essay on a lot of the key elements to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and only briefly touch on the intricate mystery at the heart of the narrative. Suffice it to say this fantastic cinematic venture from iconic film helmer David Fincher and the novel it is a cinematic adaptation of are so riveting and complex that a mere review of the film doesn’t really do either property the proper justice to be honest with you. That is because this is one pair that is fairly complementary of one another. Sure the movie doesn’t give us everything that its literary source material does or, for that matter, even follow it fairly closely (especially when it comes to how speedily the movie chooses to end things; a component that I felt was a bit detrimental incidentally). Be that as it may be though, there is no denying that Fincher’s take on the tale does stay close to the heart of the story. Not only that, but seeing this cast of characters and all their various quirks brought so vividly to life really does give an extra dimension to the tale that actually aids the source material whilst also helping to tie in some of the thematic concepts the book explores in perhaps a bit more detail. Suffice it to say this one film that is phenomenally crafted with some truly top-flight performances with particular regard to the work done in this by Rooney Mara. Thus yes The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo might just unnerve the heck out of you with a lot of what goes on during it, but at the same time it is also easily one of the finest movies that the year 2011 sought fit to give us. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a solid 4 out of 5.