The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Greeted with an oil-drenched title sequence coupled with a heavily synthesized version of "Immigrant Song" by Trent Reznor, it's safe to say this movie starts out with a bang. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo follows that insane opening with a dense, tense, and adult thriller directed by the guy who did Fight Club and Se7en. It was riveting, and occasionally difficult to watch. The material was so raw that I sat in stunned silence or bemusement as the events screamed by. For a movie that's nearly three hours long, I didn't feel it dragged for a moment.

With that blistering pace in mind, I found it a little difficult to get into the mystery. What I mean by that is that it is really thickly plotted. The setup for the events and the suspects surrounding the mystery are revealed at a breakneck pace. A few words, a couple scenes of introduction, several names thrown out with a bit of exposition, and it is off to the investigation. Thankfully, the investigation does fill in those holes rather well, since we are shown who is important. Then through a nice use of flashbacks, we are shown how the day of the murder, set nearly forty years earlier, took place.

If that were all this movie had to offer, I would only be marginally impressed. But I was blown away by the performances. Everyone was excellent, down to the bit parts. Of course I have to single out Rooney Mara who played Lisbeth Salander. She took this role and ran with it, stealing every scene she was in. I haven't seen anyone inhabit a role so completely since Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. She was complex and compelling, and I'd be disappointed if she didn't get at least a nomination for Best Actress. But Daniel Craig (Mikael Blomkvist) was also really wonderful. He was quiet and thoughtful, and genuine in a way that wasn't forced. He was obviously a flawed man, but a good one. They were both so good and had engaged me so completely, that by the time something really horrible happened, I was literally at the edge of my seat, hoping for an outcome that might allow one or both of them to pull through.

The way it was filmed was really interesting and stark. The filmmakers used a lot of snowy scenery and empty landscapes to paint a picture of isolation and cold. It was a beautiful way to depict a place that was tainted with horror. You could almost feel the echoes of the past buried under the snow. They didn't change the book's backdrop of Sweden. It felt almost as if I were watching a foreign movie that had had their actors performing an English version. I understand that there were several locations that were practically identical to the original movie (made in Sweden in 2009).

Although I had no intention of including spoilers in this review, there is a scene I need to discuss. It has to do with content, and the more graphic elements.

Spoilers Below

Lisbeth Salander is a very disturbed, isolated, and extremely angry person because of her past, which she speaks about through quietly gritted teeth, never once admitting that it affected her. This bubbling hatred for the hand life has dealt to her is tempered by her massive intellect. She looks like an alien with multiple facial piercings and a stark, nearly monochromatic goth/punk style. All of this baggage means she doesn't really emote, and yet somehow she is so intriguing that it is hard not to be drawn in. She is trapped in a system that doesn't care about her, and subjected to a sleazy social worker with increasingly disgusting desires. Eventually this culminates in a rape scene. She is so slight, and the rapist is so powerful that although she fights, he brutalizes her. The physical trauma is shown afterwards, and you wonder how anyone could get past that kind of attack.

What was worse was realizing that this was only one event in her hard life. Watching her go through the same kind of the violence and humiliation she must've endured in her past was really difficult to sit through. In fact, it was so graphic that the woman sitting next to me had her mouth covered while looking away from the screen, and one man actually left the theater. Up until that point she was like a caged animal, obviously seething with barely controlled fury. The rapist's indiscretion sends her over the edge, and her vengeance is extremely satisfying, although equally as difficult to watch. These are the two most extreme depictions of violence, but are not the only ones. There is more violence, a few fairly graphic sex scenes (not including the rape), animal mutilation, and numerous pictures of women that were brutally tortured, raped, and torn apart.

Yet despite the content, I felt it was worth it when Lisbeth and Mikael finally connected in Act 2. At first she treated him like another potential rapist. But he had no interest in her sexually, since he wanted her for her talent and mind. He showed her respect and humanity, and it had a direct effect on her. When we do finally see her smile once, it was a revelation. Then there was a moment where she asked him for permission to commit murder, which struck me as fascinating. She connected to him to the point where she had transferred her moral compass to him, because she realized that she wasn't capable of thinking rationally about that kind of stuff anymore. This dynamic is truly the strength of this film, and I imagine the book as well.

End of Spoilers.

I went into this intentionally without any foreknowledge of the plot, and I haven't read the book yet. I'm not sure if the Swedish version of this was as good, and I have no idea if an American remake was necessary. But I thoroughly enjoyed this movie.

Four out of four tough as nails chicks with Mohawks.

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

13 comments:

Henrik Bennetter said...

Great, great, review. It obviously spoke to you, the movie I mean.
As far as I'm told the Fincher-version is very true to the original, which in turn is very true to the book.
By the way - they're doing the whole trilogy, right?

J.D. Balthazar said...

Thank you for that comment, yes it did speak to me :). I know Daniel Craig is signed for the next two, but as for the green light we'll have to wait for the box office results.

J.D.

Naya Saal said...

He might have given unnaturally overhyped Se7en and "Social Network"...But this one s truly amazing....
Definitely,a collector's item

Jess Lynde said...

This glowing review actually convinced me I don't want to see this movie. I admit to being intrigued when I saw the trailers. I'm a Daniel Craig fan, and Lisbeth Salander is a striking, compelling figure. But if it hews that closely to the source material --- particularly the more graphic material --- then I think I'm better served just living with the horrific images conjured when I read the book, rather than seeing them played out on screen. Good performances or no. Thanks much!

Billie Doux said...

It's funny, Jess, but I was thinking exactly the same thing. J.D., you wrote a terrific review. Thank you so much for that spoiler section about the content, because it pretty much convinced me that this movie may be terrific, but it's probably one I'd find difficult to watch.

Paul Kelly said...

I'm actually having the opposite reaction. I was initially lukewarm about seeing this film, but after reading your review, I can't wait. I loved the books, and the Swedish mini-series, and was of the opinion that the world didn't need another version. But this sounds like a winner. Thank J.D. I'm now going to have to spend some money. If I can get anyone to go with me. My friends are notoriously squeamish.

Paul Kelly said...

That should have been "thanks JD" but "thank JD" works too. Everybody. Thank him, now. I command it! ;o)

Josie Kafka said...

Thank you, J.D.!

The difficult content is an interesting sticking point. My father's wife and I tried to explain the movie's possible flaws to him (he hasn't read the book), and we both got stuck on not even wanting to describe the one really bad scene. And then we both agreed that we'd take great pleasure in the revenge scene, however graphic. It was a fun moment of feminist bonding with someone who is very much not a feminist.

Revenge fantasists, unite!

Having said that, I will wait for the DVD as I always do.

Anonymous said...

I haven´t watched yet and although I´m a bit curious, I highly doubt it will surpass the original one. The original (which is Swedish but that doesn´t matter because after 5 minutes you don´t even notice in what language it is because the movie sucks you in) is awesome, raw, astounding and compelling. I´ve watched 4 times already and I completely love it, as well as Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth who has become another one of my female heroines.
You should watch the second one, it´s very good also. And I´m waiting for the third one to come out on DVD this month.
Watch all 3 movies, you won´t regret it.

Olga said...

First of all - great review!
I never saw Swedish movies, I did read the book however, and I went to watch this one with not exactly an open mind. After "The Da Vinci Code" movie failed miserably (for me) I am very careful about these sort of books made to movie. I was wondering whether they will be able to film it in a way that won't be dissapointing, and I couldn't imagine how could they fit all this material into 3 hours. But my mom really wanted to see it and I went along. God! I'm so glad I did. I was blown away from second 1 and 3 hours went by like only minutes. I loved it, the performances were great, it was very fast-paced, yes, it was sometimes I would say physically difficult to watch but those were parts that are important for main character's story. Bottom line - for movie based on a book, that millions have read it turned out to be a very stand-alone and worth to watch.

J.D. Balthazar said...

Rooney Mara just got nominated for Best Actress for this role... kick ass!!!

Cesar said...

Only got to watch this today. Having read and loved the books and seen the original movies (which were very good indeed) I had the same opinion that this was completely unnecessary and an extremely bad idea.

Instead, I think I liked it more than the 2009 version. The mystery was downplayed and the film didn't bother wasting time on analysing the family/suspects too much, focusing on the key moments of the investigation and leaving more room for Blomkvist and Salander's stories, which really helped the movie in my opinion.

And yes, Rooney Mara was amazing.

Can't wait for the sequels (I don't say this often, specially with remakes)

Josie Kafka said...

J.D, what a great review! I agree with everything you said, and I too enjoyed this movie quite a bit.

Jess, if you still haven't seen it, I would recommend it. The graphic scenes are graphic--but they are not as graphic as they are in the book. And many of the stylistic elements that bothered you about the book are completely gone (which makes sense, since this is a movie and not stilted prose).

One tiny quibble with the review, though: J.D., how could you not mention Alan Dale?!