DVD Review - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

For the better part of a year, I've gotten new DVD releases in days, weeks and even months following their actual street dates, thanks to the delay put on Netflix by the major movie studios. For example, I've had Moneyball at the top of my queue for three months and still haven't received it, so you can imagine my surprise when I got The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011), the new Sony Pictures film that made $102 million at the box office, on its actual street date of March 20, 2012. When I opened the signature, red envelope, I got another surprise. The look of the disc itself was almost as if it were ripped illegally on an amateur's Apple computer and labeled with a Sharpie.

The look was in stark contrast to what's actually inside the disc. The movie, directed by Oscar-nominee David Fincher, is far from amateur. It is a slick and so superbly crafted piece that the DVD's label is perhaps the funniest and most ironic of labels, if not the most perfect. The movie is available on demand and for those who saw it in theaters, this won't matter, but I felt it was worth noting. Given all the issues regarding piracy this year, like SOPA, for Fincher and Sony to make their DVD look like a pirated copy or bootleg disc was a brilliant commentary on the whole thing.

Based on the novel by Stieg Larson, most cinephiles like myself recognize that this movie is essentially a remake of the Swedish film of the same name. Fincher shot the movie in Sweden as it is set in that Nordic country, but everyone here speaks English. Many people in Sweden are bilingual anyway, so it's not out of the realm of possibility, but it's trying to bring the Swedish series that's an International hit to the United States. Fincher, in that regard, is its ambassador and he does an amazing job.

The story is a magazine journalist named Mikael Blomkvist, played by Daniel Craig (Casino Royale and Munich), who gets sued after he exposes a man for his financial crimes. That man is Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. Blomkvist gets sued because he can't prove that Wennerstrom is guilty of his crimes, but Wennerstrom is a kind of Swedish Bernie Madoff.

Because of this, the magazine for which Blomkvist writes could go under. This supremely worries Blomkvist's editor, Erika Berger, played by Robin Wright. The magazine's saving grace is Henrik Vanger, played by Christopher Plummer who won his first Academy Award this year for Beginners, making him the eldest actor ever to do so. Vanger is the son of a wealthy Swedish industrialist. Vanger offers to fish the magazine out of danger on the bargain that Blomkvist performs a task.

Blomkvist has to write Vanger's memoirs as well as help Vanger to solve a 40-year mystery. Vanger tells Blomkvist that in 1966, his teenage niece Harriet disappeared without a trace. The only evidence is a yearly present that Vanger gets on his birthday that matches a present that Harriet used to give him every year. Vanger thinks Harriet was murdered and the killer is taunting him with these presents. Vanger explains that the taunting is due to the killer possibly being a member of his family.

Blomkvist begins investigating. He talks to as many family members as he can. He also looks at the photos taken during that time, but eventually he hits a wall. He requests help and Vanger's company recommends a special investigator named Lisbeth Salander, played by Rooney Mara who was nominated for an Academy Award for this role.

Salander is a ward of the state. She's been a ward ever since she was 10 years old for reasons that will be revealed later. She's remained a ward, even past the age of 18 because she's had drug and violence problems. Her guardian who was most likely a father-figure to her suffers a stroke, so she's assigned a new guardian. This new guardian turns out to be an abusive man, a rapist and possible misogynist.

Salander doesn't have friends. She's a computer hacker of the highest order. She's into gothic things. Yet, she's always eating McDonald's Happy Meals. She smokes. She drives a motorcycle and has the occasional lesbian lover. When Blomkvist learns that Salander hacked into his computer and revealed his affair with his editor, he barges into her life and gets her to help solve the mystery.

Blomkvist suspects that Harriet's disappearance and possible murder are connected to a string of murders that might be the acts of a serial killer. Salander agrees to join on the case and really jumps on it. What Blomkvist doesn't know is that not only is she a super computer hacker but she's also an ace investigator and has a total photographic memory.

Mara perfectly plays this character as a fierce machine but so quiet and deliberate in most moments. Craig plays against the James Bond persona that the world associates with him and is more a sensitive and vulnerable man. As crude as it is, in their relationship, Craig is the "woman" and Mara is the "man." The two of them do a great job.

Steve Zaillian's adaptation works very well, even though I don't think it's as cohesive as the Swedish adaptation, but Fincher's direction here is the true star. This movie is such a technical achievement from the visuals, the camera moves and angles, even the production design and visual effects, to the sounds, the score and the mixing. I can't stress how superb it is. Usually, I'm against remakes, but Fincher actually made me forget the original, which I saw not that long ago, and managed to pull me into his film.

Two examples are the escalator scene where Salander gets robbed and the blowjob scene where Salander has to trade a sexual favor for money. Fincher's use of editing in the escalator scene is quick and so well choreographed that it almost could have been out of a James Bon film. The sound mixing though favors not the hitting and jumping or action music but the sound of the subway train to which the escalator leads. Fincher also utilizes great sound mixing in the blowjob scene, which is probably the best incorporation of the humming of a floor polisher ever in a movie.

If I have any criticism of this remake, it's that unlike Fincher's Seven or Zodiac the movie is less about character development as it is more about procedure, watching people stare at old records and photos. Yet, Fincher makes it work. He makes it the most compelling staring you'll see in a while. On the DVD commentary, Fincher admits that the movie has a five-act structure as opposed to the normal three-act structure, making it more like a TV cop drama. It's also clear the way the movie ends that it's setting things up for the sequels. Some may or may not find that frustrating. I didn't.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for rape, torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity and language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 38 mins.


Popular Posts