The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

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With some hindsight, I know I went into The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo with high expectations that would be almost impossible to meet. I was expecting the greatest film ever and if didn’t get it I would be disappointed. I saw the film and it wasn’t the best film ever, it wasn’t even the best film I had seen that week. So I can’t help but be disappointed. Was the film that bad? No, it was very ok. The film was shot and edited beautifully, the actors gave it their all (especially Rooney Mara in the lead) and the story was ok. The film was a solid B, but when you are hoping for and expecting an A+ you can’t help but be let down.

Director David Fincher had done two other serial killer thrillers before in Se7en and Zodiac and both films are masterpieces in their own ways. Both also were very distinct Fincher films.  Dragon Tattoo felt like the first movie he had made since Alien 3 that I felt like he was just a director for hire. Sure the movie looked beautiful and there were many cool touches, but the film felt like a slave to its source material for the movie to ever feel unique or to breathe. The best things about the film were the teaser trailer and the opening credits, two aspects that Fincher could create without worrying about how fans of the book would react.  There is a direct link between the two things and I don’t think it was a coincidence.

The movie did many things wonderfully that I mentioned early in this piece.  Fincher can’t make an ugly film and Dragon Tattoo is far from that. The cinematography really makes you feel like you are in this frozen wasteland and the score created by Oscar winner Trent Reznor was again very interesting, different and worked perfectly in the film. The performances were also really good and Daniel Craig, in my opinion, gave his first complete performance outside of the Bond films since Layer Cake. But if we are going to talk about performances, the main one to mention is Rooney Mara.

You could not call what she did in this film as anything less than an all-encompassing performance. Her look might have changed drastically than what she usually looks like, but makeup and piercings can easily do that. What was so impressive about her performance was how her performance was all quiet bubbling below the surface. She never does the “big emotional scene” because her character is not able to have those big emotions. She was either cold and calculating or a rabid dog that has been cornered into a fight. The way that Mara conveys all her hurt and rage with her eyes was amazing and was a wonderful performance.

This was all stuff that the movie did well, but I feel like the movie was missing that extra gear I wanted the film to kick into. It felt perfectly content to just be a good film. Maybe it was my way too high expectations or it could have been it was a mult-million dollar film adaptation of a popular book but some of the film felt to distant for me. I would still say I liked the film, but I wanted more than anything to love it. Andrew, what are your thoughts on the film? I am very curious on how you saw it since you did not go in with as near high of expectations as me.

Andrew:  Longtime readers of the site will know that I would probably enter this film with the lowest expectations of all.  Now that I've read them, I'm not the biggest fan of the books and my reaction to the original Swedish film trilogy was mixed at best.  Of the two of us you clearly went in with the higher set of expectations and left a bit sad.  I went in expecting entertainment and got it in droves.  But, like Fincher's best entertainments, it falls apart a bit under close scrutiny and I have to place the finger on the way Lisbeth is presented in this version.

I must put some of the "blame" on Mara for accomplishing one of the rarest feats in film.  Her performance is absolutely stunning and completely wrong at the same time.  True, we get glimpses of the feral animal she's capable of being, but I disagree she's capable of those big emotions when her actions of the last act, and especially that last shot, show that she really just wants an emasculated man to melt away her defenses.  For a character who brought to life such ferocious feminist intensity Mara's performance is off, but it's more because of what she's asked to do then how she performs it.  Lisbeth is not supposed to be tamed by anyone, least of all the ineffectual Blomkvist.

There were some other missteps I found troubling.  Clumsiness aside, the novels and base story are supposed to  be pro-feminist but this American adaptation took some very common and obvious "outs" to avoid having Lisbeth match the stunning accuracy of Noomi Repace's original performance.  There are too many sex scenes, too many self gratifying shots of Mara's unclothed body, too many times Craig is allowed to slip into proto-manliness in order to satisfy the American audiences need of having a strong male in the story.

Still, the duality of the way men and women are treated in the system was made far clearer here.  When Blomkvist is screwed by the system he gets an all expenses paid trip to a private island, but when Lisbeth is screwed by the system she is anally raped.  Story elements aside, Fincher gets some pitch black humor out of this duality early on such as when Lisbeth has to give her case worker a blowjob for her own money and the movie cuts to a shot of Blomkvist spraying his mouth with mint.  I didn't expect or necessarily want to laugh at that moment, but Fincher made it work.

That said, sweet hell does this film move like no other released this year.  It's actually longer than the Swedish original, but until the final 10 minutes I hardly felt it.  Fincher's editors, Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall, got his shot rhythm down to perfection.  The conversations which felt so endless and droll in 2009 took on a new vitality in their hands and Fincher's sure sense of visual composition.  He instilled the film with a sense of pulp 40's fiction, sensing a kindred spirit in the feminist detective novels like In A Lonely Place, and pays tribute to the books themselves in a very respectful shot.

Dragon Tattoo is superb entertainment, even if it doesn't hold up thematically as well as I might have liked.  As far as visceral movie experiences go this one left me breathless at times.  I just hope the general public doesn't realize that this may be the most psychologically disturbed Christmas movie ever made.  If Die Hard can join the annals of Christmas movies, it makes scary sense Lisbeth and her misfortune might soon follow.

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Posted by Andrew

Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Andrew– I’m so glad you didn’t mix up annal and anal in that last sentence, although if your word choice was intentional, I wouldn’t be surprised.

  2. Mara and Craig are both good here and Fincher is obviously on his A-game, but I still went into this not expecting any surprises and that’s sort of what I got. It was a good and entertaining flick, just nothing all that special in the end. Good review.

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