Movies: ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’

Rooney Mara makes good in her star-making role

...would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.

In the beginning there was only a book, but let's start with the ending. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011) wraps up with what can only be interpreted as a prologue to a sequel. The movie's elaborate cold case puzzle plot has long since been pieced together when our socially challenged goth heroine Lisbeth Salander sets a new revenge plot in motion. Since we're already past the two hour mark, we race through this whole new story with the speed usually reserved for Lisbeth's midnight motorcycle rides. New beginnings, middles, and endings race by us like blurry highway markers. What just happened? How satisfied the movie leaves you will surely depend on whether or not you'd like to stay in your seat waiting for the next hellish chapter to unfold. 

Millions of people have eagerly flipped pages for all of the hellish chapters of the worldwide best selling "Millennium" trilogy. The Swedish literary phenomenon has already spawned three homegrown films starring Noomi Rapace (now co-opted by Hollywood for the new Sherlock Holmes movie). It's time to crack the book open again with the American version by David Fincher (The Social Network). We're jumping around in time because the experience of the movie, and this franchise in general, is also one of chapters, false starts, and piecemeal reveals.

The plot, which is far too complicated to regurgitate finds Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) the patriarch of a despicable family searching for answers to what happened to his granddaughter decades before. He believes a family member offed her and he hires Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) to solve the mystery under the guise of helping him with his memoirs. As the plot thickens, Blomkvist seeks assistance in the form of ward of the state and computer hacking genius Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara).



The best reason to see the new version is the riveting mix of physical vulnerability and psychological armor that Mara brings to the already famous role, besting Noomi Rapace's take on the character. (Mara was just Golden Globe nominated) Yet, despite the successful Lisbeth reinvention and Fincher's considerable visual prowess as a filmmaker, the whole of the story underwhelms. The plotty patchwork storytelling which has always been better suited to a television miniseries, frustratingly keeps the only two characters we truly care apart (Lisbeth and Bomkvist) apart for what seems like an entire hour. Considering that Fincher has been to the serial killer well twice before to stunning results (Se7en and Zodiac —  three times previously if you count Madonna's "Bad Girl" video), one wonders why he needed another genre go round with an already familiar property.  His previous sicko killer films had redemptive humanity in their heroes but this time, there's not much differentiating between the killer's sadism and the storytelling itself. The source material's creepy sexism (Girls and their Daddies, oh my!) is also tough to stomach. Crime films should be unsettling but maybe they shouldn't give themselves over so fully to the sadism at the core of their subject matter. (For what it's worth Shame was recently rated NC-17 for its abundant consensual sex. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which is just as sexually graphic but often non-consensual and violent received a R from those reliable perverts at the MPAA).


The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo begins with the hottest, sickest music video you've seen in opening title form since Fincher's own Se7en (1995). When the title sequence ended I wondered if I had dreamt it. Craig and Mara intertwine, explode and drip with inky-black inhuman abandon, while cable cords rope around them with digital reptilian menace. The opening is so transfixingly hot, that the instantly chilly Scandinavian winter that follows is a shock to the system, like molten lava suddenly hardened into black rock. The movie chases but never quite manages to catch that sequence's nightmarish hallucinatory tail. It would be a gross distortion to say that the movie never catches fire again, but Fincher is more concerned with the deep chill. He'll take you to hell but this one is frozen over.