Year: 2011
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Steven Zaillian, Stieg Larsson
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 158 mins

Synopsis: Journalist Mikael Blomkvist is aided in his search for a woman who has been missing for forty years by Lisbeth Salander, a young computer hacker. (Source)

If there was anyone ever born to translate Stieg Larsson’s smash-hit The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (aka Man som Hatar Kvinnor,  or Men Who Hate Women) to film, it’s undoubtedly David Fincher. The film marks the director’s return to the darker type of fare he built his early career on, and Fincher delivers one of the most raw, subversive and uncompromisingly bleak Hollywood films created since his very own Fight Club. While it’s not as perfect as Se7en (faults lie within the script), he’s undeniably succeeded in crafting a thoroughly mature and emotionally piercing adult superhero film. No, the titular character Lisbeth Salander doesn’t have any fantastic, supernatural or comic book-like powers, rather her strength stems from being able to survive a life in which she’s experienced every abuse possible. In this way Lisbeth acts as an avenger, one whose feral retribution and attitude are a projection of society’s unquenched justice for the deepest, darkest, most oppressive deeds committed against those that are marginalized, who in this case are women.

Dragon Tattoo’s plot begins with two parallel stories that gradually interlock. On one end, disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is hired by rich, retired industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to solve a family mystery 40 years in the making, and on the other end lies the enigmatic hacker/investigator Lisbeth Salander. Her story is a bit more complicated/interesting compared to the simple procedural plot, and it’s only as the story progresses that she emerges as the narrative’s main thematic avatar. Once she teams up with Blomkvist to investigate the Vanger case, the two forge an unlikely friendship because he accepts her as-is and treats her as his equal, with her heart becoming the most telling as it thaws amongst the cold, desolate Swedish winter.

To put it bluntly, Lisbeth is the story’s central conceit. She embodies everything that transpires, and within the movie’s main themes of sexual violence and oppression towards women (in a nutshell) she is author Stieg Larsson’s literal atonement for an act of rape he witnessed at the age of 15. Most obviously, she embodies the qualities he wished he could’ve had on the day he witnessed that life changing event, and simply calling her a feminist or a strong-willed character does a disservice to her complexity, vividly brought to life by Fincher. The director pulls no punches and has really paid attention to even the tiniest of details. Lisbeth’s look is an obvious rebellion to the social norm, her junk-food diet calls out her premature and accelerated development, and her strong will comes replete with some very deep psychological issues pertaining to trust and men, which is most apparent in her retaliation against a very sadistic court-appointed guardian. It’s serious subject matter, made all the more potent through a graphic rape scene, which acts as the movie’s centerpiece. It’s a completely unsavory event, and it’s the one that solidifies Lisbeth’s purpose as a literary, and now cinematic, dark avenger into crystal clear focus.

Though the movie is populated by great performances (especially Stellan Skarsgard, Christopher Plummer, and Robin Wright), star Rooney Mara steals the show in every scene she’s in, delivering an utterly fearless performance. It’s one of the most intense and uncompromising performances I’ve seen since Charlotte Gainsbourg in Antichrist, and Mara brings a level of humanity and pain here that lends understanding to her tough exterior. Before seeing this movie I’d only seen the Swedish counterpart, and while previous Lisbeth Noomi Rapace was great and played Salander much tougher, I have to say that I prefer Mara’s more fragile portrayal. There’s a pain behind her detached stare and awkward posture that makes her strength and savage behavior a lot more tragic and innocent. It’s truly one of the most singularly human performances of the entire year, and if she doesn’t get noticed for it then the art of acting is dead. You may have noticed by now that I have yet to mention Daniel Craig’s performance, but it’s simply because his character was a little boring (which I felt was attributed to the script, not the actor), leading to a flat performance despite being completely likable with the little he’s given.

The main thing that will turn people off and makes me a little uncomfortable is the way the movie and story straddles the line between exploitative entertainment and serious social commentary. Obviously rape is no joking matter, and while Lisbeth’s character can be absolutely applauded for everything she stands for, it’s a little difficult to be excited for all the violence that erupts on screen. I usually have no problem watching graphic violence onscreen in mindless entertainment, but this movie is the farthest thing from that. It’s tackling deep social taboos and there is bit of hypocrisy in the simultaneous disparagement and glorification of violence. However, that’s just my opinion, and in the end I may be thinking too deeply about it. Just the fact that the movie is turning people on to such a dilemma and that the main character is so movingly empowering may be the trade off here. On a lesser level, there are some story details with respect to Lisbeth that are left out of this iteration, which could’ve given her a lot more moral responsibility.

Ultimately, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is everything you’d expect from David Fincher. It’s dark, uncompromising, provocative and most certainly doesn’t take the easy route. It’s a big Hollywood film that doesn’t trade entertainment for brains,  a visceral experience that will leave you emotionally drained (it has one of the best endings this year) and will keep you thinking about it long after it’s over.

P.S. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross win for best score of the year. It’s a dark, propulsive tapestry of ambience and atmosphere, which enriches the entire experience like no other.

Crome Rating: 4/5