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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Directing: B+
Acting: A-
Writing: A-
Cinematography: A-
Editing: B

It would seem almost as though I am the only person on Earth who has not read the Stieg Larsson runaway best seller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Nor have I seen the widely admired Swedish adaptation. Honestly this puts me at an advantage: I had no baggage of expectations when walking into the Americanized version by David Fincher, aside from the knowledge that Fincher is one of the most gifted directors working today. It allowed me to judge the film on its own merits alone. How faithful it is to the book, from a cinematic perspective, is irrelevant. All I need to know is: is it a good movie?

Hell yes. But with a qualifier: no, it's not a great movie -- although it comes really, really close. Indeed, there are some moments difficult to endure, just as reportedly there are in the novel, but that doesn't keep this from being solid entertainment. I was completely absorbed nearly from beginning to end.

At 158 minutes, though, it's long. Oddly, it still feels tightly packed with almost too much information -- as though Fincher felt he needed to include as much from the novel as possible. Based on the film alone, there are scenes that don't seem indispensable. But of course there are sequels planned, and they may be part of a grander vision. And the vision here is clear enough, in spite of occasionally annoying, self-consciously rapid-fire editing, that I look forward to what's to come.

The story is relatively convoluted. I had trouble keeping up at times. The journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), recently sued successfully for libel, is hired by a mysterious old man (Christopher Plummer) to investigate a 40-year-old murder in his family. Said family lives on an island in the north of Sweden, land all owned by the family, most of which still lives in houses there, but many of which refuse to speak to each other. Dysfunction in an apparently very Swedish way. There are lots of family connections here, both in the present and in the back story, and I never quite figured out all of the connections. Thankfully Blomkvist was able to decipher it thanks to a family tree he pasted onto the wall of the cottage he stays in.

So where does the dragon-tattooed girl of the title come in? For a while, her connection seems only tenuous: she was hired by the old man to do the background check on Blomkvist. She's an acutely eccentric, disturbed and insanely gifted computer hacker who is also a ward of the State at 23 due to being declared mentally incompetent. After only a brief meeting between her and the old man's lawyer, perhaps a third of the movie cuts back and forth between Blomkvist beginning his investigation and the tattooed Lisbeth dealing with near poverty.

She is taken advantage of by her social worker. This is where we get to the scene that is arguably the most difficult to watch. It's genuinely horrifying. Amazingly, Lisbeth later exacts a kind of vengeance that is perhaps just as horrifying. And here is how we learn how necessary these scenes really are to the story, even though they have nothing to do with Blomkvist: it makes you think, Okay, you don't fuck with this woman.

Lisbeth is a character with strengths you just don't see in women in the movies. She alone is what makes The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo stand apart. In spite of being damaged, she's like the Ellen Ripley of our age, except in a far more realistic setting. She is the hero. There was a story last year about the movie Salt, which was originally written for Tom Cruis and later reworked for Angelina Jolie. In the original script, the hero saves a spouse in distress. When the genders reversed, it was decided the man in the "distressed" role seemed "emasculated" and so he was given some more heroic moves of his own. The change was patently sexist. But no such sexism exists in the making of Dragon Tattoo: here, it's truly the girl who saves the day.

Granted, it's in a very predictable, Hollywood-movie way, but it's still something. This is a movie, after all, and it's here for our entertainment.

So here we have a young woman with self-reliance and ingenuity unparalleled elsewhere in the movies. To call it a breath of fresh air would be an understatement. Blomkvist gets deeper and deeper into the mystery of this family murder, and decides he needs a research assistant. Lisbeth is recommended; she meets him and finds the details of his project fascinating. They get intertwined with each other and with this fucked up family filled with resentments and secrets that run so deep they tap into the broader the broader history and culture of Sweden.

At its core, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a pretty standard murder mystery. But what it also does is take many of the tropes of that genre and invert them, to startlingly satisfying effect. In spite of a few predictable outcomes, virtually every twist and turn on the way there is a surprise. The delight is in the details -- especially when it comes to Lisbeth. As played by Rooney Mara, she's not just the anti-Lara Croft, but a reality-based hero to be reckoned with. That she has some very dark demons, some of which seem only hinted at, only enhances her mystique, and that of the movie. She's someone you want to see more of.

Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig are brought together for an unlikely partnership in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.</a>

Overall: B+
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