Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars
Swedish magazine publisher Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) is having a bad day. He’s just been found guilty of libel after publishing a very damning article about one of the country’s largest businessmen. Four hours away a phone conversation is being held. “No note,” is heard before the phone is hung up. Thus begins a tale to rival “The Silence of the Lambs.”
Based on the popular series of novels by Stieg Larsson (three books, over 27 million copies sold), “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” has already been made into a well received film (as have the other two novels). But this is not a remake. This is director Fincher’s vision of the story. And, as Fincher has shown in films like “Se7en” and “Zodiac,” that vision is often unflinching. The film is really best described as a play. In Act One we meet, separately, both Mikael as well as computer hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander (Mara). Hoping to put the libel case behind him, Mikael accepts an offer from business tycoon Henrik Vanger (Plummer) to help him write his autobiography. But the offer is really a front. Vanger is the man whose telephone conversation we overheard. His granddaughter disappeared forty years ago under mysterious circumstances and he wants Mikael to solve the mystery. In coming to the decision to hire Mikael, Vanger’s attorney, Frode (played perfectly by Steven Berkoff) hired the best to investigate Mikael’s background. The best was Lisbeth. When Mikael asks for permission to hire an assistant he is introduced to Lisbeth. After a brief conversation, Mikael describes the task. “I want you to help me catch a killer of women.”
It’s almost hard to describe a film that features Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” during its opening credits and then ends the film with Enya’s “Sail Away.” I’ll start with brilliant. Following the blueprint created by Larsson and adapted by Oscar winning screenwriter Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”), the film follows both Mikael and Lisbeth and captures them at their most vulnerable. Lisbeth, a slight woman who lives on junk food and McDonalds (she explains that due to her metabolism she can’t put on weight) is a ward of the state. After several unsuccessful placements she seemed to have found a kind guardian. But when he takes ill she is taken advantage of by the attorney who oversees her finances. Mikael, a skilled journalist, is like a fish out of water as he tries to solve a forty year mystery under the guise of literature. As he begins to interview Vangers family members the subject of the missing girl is always brought up. And just as often, it’s dismissed by those who are tired of living in the past. But with Lisbeth’s help the mystery begins to unravel, as piece by piece the puzzle begins to come together.
Though the film is certainly Fincher’s vision, that vision is maintained thanks to a brilliant cast. Craig is solid as Mikael. With an easy tone in his voice he is able to ingratiate himself to anyone he speaks with, gaining their trust and encouraging them to disclose secrets long held. Plummer and Berkoff are equally strong, as is Stellan Skarsgard, who plays Henrik’s brother, Martin. They are brilliantly matched by Mara, who underwent an incredible physical transformation (including having several places on her body pierced) to play the waifish Lisbeth. Her eyes ringed in black and her voice low and deliberate, Lisbeth is only looking for someone to trust. To those who violate that trust, the consequences are severe!
Technically the film is just as powerful. Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth’s cameras capture both the beauty and isolation of the Swedish countryside while the musical score created by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross helps paint the on-screen pictures. Both musicians worked with Fincher on “The Social Network” (as did Mara, who portrayed the girl who upset Mark Zuckerberg at the beginning of the film) and again they manage to capture the director in their music. The film is not for the faint of heart. Fans of the book know there are some pretty shocking moments and Fincher and cast have not shied away from them. The recently released “Shame” received an NC 17 rating with material not as rough as portrayed here.