Alien: 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'

Fincher's Girl (has) a far more bracing and brutal bite.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Director: David Fincher
Cast: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Robin Wright, Stellan Skarsgård, Christopher Plummer, Joely Richardson
Rated: R
Studio: Columbia/Sony
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-12-20 (General release)
UK date: 2011-12-26 (General release)

She's an alien in her world, a gloomy Goth visage that roams the streets of Stockholm viewing everything that passes by with a calculating, jaundiced eye. She's been taken advantage of, used for her skills as a computer hacker and her vulnerability as a ward of the State. She's also a user, the kind of person who plays one against another, using their fears and foibles against them in a cruel kind of human chess. She's Lizbeth Salander, the star of the late Stieg Larsson's international bestsellers collectively known as The Millennium Trilogy - and she's something to behold.

First ficionalized in the brilliant The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the books meant to showcase the lingering, familial evil still rampant in the supposedly sedate country of Sweden. The tomes took off, creating an international market that included foreign features, a mini-series, and the promise of more postumous works. Now, this lithe lynx's story has been translated into a feature film by David Fincher (following in the footsteps of the masterful version from Niels Arden Oplev), and while the plotting remains the same, as with all successful adaptations, the focus becomes something all together different... and dangerous... and delightful.

The main narrative centers around famed journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) whose career has been discredited after he loses a liable case. It throws his magazine, and his relations with its married co-editor (Robin Wright) in jeopardy. Given a chance to redeem himself by Henrik (Christopher Plummer), the aging patriarch of the wealthy Vanger family, Mikael is asked to investigate a 40 year old murder. The clan is convinced that someone on their secluded country island killed their Harriet, and they want to know who. Of course, the Vangers themselves are full of potential suspects, what with their various feuds and allegiances to money, power, and long ago, the Nazi Party. Needing additional help, Mikael is offered the services of a young hacker named Lizbeth (Rooney Mara). A computer expert, she uncovers crucial information about the Vangers' past and the possible connection to the present mystery.

There are really three main intertwining narrative threads in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The least interesting centers on Mikael, an explosive article about a wealthy businessman, and the legal case that represents the second story's catalyst. Then we get the main storyline, the history and heartbreak (and hatred) of the Vanger dynasty, their sinister soap operatics, and the whole whodunit over Harriet and that fateful day when she 'disappeared.' Fincher, whose entire auteurism has been forged out of film such as this, handles the material with easy and the mandated necessary menace. Leads and layers build on each other until the tension is turned up to ten. Then, in true Se7en style, he ups the 'ick' factor by finding a way to turn everything even more dark and disturbing.

But the real joy here, the real difference between the original cinematic experience and the Western update, is the treatment of Lizbeth's story. Unlike Oplev, who continually merged the troubled title gal's issues into the fabric of his film, Fincher is more interested in making his outsider a true myth. From the opening credits (played out over the brilliant Trent Reznor/Karen O take on Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" ) which the director has described as trip through Lizbeth's fevered brain, this is her movie, her introduction and origin. Since Fincher has signed on to make all three films in the trilogy, one can only imagine him setting the foundation for some fascinating denouements along the way. In fact, the finale offers up some of what we can expect the rest of the way.

In Ms. Mara, Fincher has discovered someone who understands the estranged social aspects of Lizbeth's drive. Hers is a very harsh life. When required to demean herself sexually to the bureaucrat in charge of her case, we worry for her safety. Mara sells it perfectly. When we then see what our heroine has in store for those who take advantage of or wrong her, the performance picks up even more steam. By the time Lizbeth is spearheading Mikael's research, making the connection few could or would have, she's become something altogether different...again. The genius in taking the plot in this direction is that it sets up an unusual in road for the audience. Few will find the character's aggressive eccentricities identifiable. On the other hand, her flailed feminism in the face of a horrifically chauvinistic system is more than universal.

This gives Fincher's Girl a far more bracing and brutal bite. While Oplev may have captured the aging disease of linger fascism fantasy in his work (especially the far more nauseating climax), America is more interested in the nuances. Lizbeth represents the reason the Vanger legacy is so lasting. She's the disaffected youth of a parentage who participated in one of the worst cases of global genocide ever - not directly, but by power and proxy. Mikael wants to make sense of all of it - and can't - while the family wants to hold up in their money made exile and await judgment. Sure, the story still needs to give us a 'what happened to who' reconciliation, especially since so much of the narrative is invested in it. But Fincher's Girl is more about the participants, not the plot particulars.

In fact, it's safe to say that this is the more literate take on Larsson's material. As with any great novel, it's the mind that makes the most important connects, and the same applies to Fincher's film. Since many going in will know the story, the reveals will seem rote. Instead, what we come back to again and again is the interpersonal intrusions and problematic personalities. Craig may be more light in his work than previous Mikael, Michael Nyqvist, but he is no less intriguing. There may be less swastikas and framed Fuhrers in Fincher's film, but the sickness still settles in every crack and crevice. It all boils down to the brooding time bomb in the body art and black leather. Lizbeth Salander may have a name that reminds one of a chameleon, but the truth is more extraterrestrial. She is literally not of this Earth, and in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, her genesis is front and center. It makes for a fascinating, fulfilling film.


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