The late Swedish crime novelist Stieg Larsson's international best seller, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, gets a first rate Hollywood adaptation by Director David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club). Fincher's unique visual style and penchant for juxtaposing dark themes is served up brilliantly here. A dark and twisted tale, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is that rare hard-R rated studio film that expertly weaves story and character development into the lascivious subject matter. Most films of this nature are too preoccupied with sex and violence to spend too match time on quality exposition. Fincher continues to distinguish himself as the best in this regard. I was riveted for the entire two hour and forty minute run time. Strap yourselves in because this is certainly a ride worth taking.
Daniel Craig stars as disgraced Swedish journalist, Mikael Blomkvist. His career and finances in ruins after an expose on a powerful businessman, Blomkvist is offered a unique assignment. Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) is a titan of Swedish industry, who's life has been haunted by the disappearance of his beloved niece, Harriet, forty years ago. Vanished at sixteen years old, every year on his birthday, someone has sent him pressed flowers; just like the ones Harriet gave him as gifts. In the twilight of his life, Henrik is convinced that Harriet was murdered by someone in his ruthless family. Blomkvist's unraveling of the Vanger family's secrets lead him to more horrific clues. He decides to call in the use of a specialized research assistant, a sociopathic girl name Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Her punk motif and odd personality hide a genius intellect. Together they unravel a mystery with terrifying consequences.
The character of Lisbeth is like a firebrand on screen. She's magnetic, played with a quiet resolve by Rooney Mara in her breakout performance. What happens to Lisbeth, and her reaction to it, are some of the most gut-wrenching scenes to grace cinema this year. Fincher does not pull back from showing scenes of graphic rape, violence, and torture. But he also does not hit you with a sledgehammer either. He directs Mara to portray Lisbeth as strong, but deeply misunderstood and vulnerable. This convergence of traits leads to a truly fascinating character. Mara gives it her all here. Doing scenes that most actresses would not have the guts to perform. But to her credit, those are not the defining moments of Lisbeth. The clues, the investigation, the interaction with Blomkvist versus other people, so well crafted and staged. I would be very surprised if Mara does not with the Oscar for Supporting Actress.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was also adapted by Swedish filmmaker Niels Oplev in 2009. That was also a good film, with Lisbeth played by Noomi Rapace. While the plot is essentially the same, the Fincher film is better. It moves at a better pace, is visually more stunning, and is far better edited. Both films do not shy away from the graphic context of the novel, but I feel Fincher's style is more cinematic here. I have to believe Fincher has seen Oplev's version, so he had the chance to improve on that work. Regardless, Fincher's amazing eye paints a bleak canvas of darkness and snow that is superior to the original. I particularly liked Fincher's awesome opening credits. Scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's (aka Nine Inch Nails) version of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song", the opening montage of black liquid morphing into the characters is amazing. Right from the start, the audience knows what they're getting into.
I realize that many people have read the book and seen the Swedish films. They, undoubtedly, will be flocking to the box office in droves. Don't ruin the plot for the neophytes. The crowning achievement of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the mystery. It actually works, is suspenseful, and leads to a surprising conclusion. I feel that in the era of social media nothing stays secret for too long. It would be criminal to spoil this movie experience, so go in cold and enjoy. Leave the kids at home for this one, it's thematically and visually too graphic for them.