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Friday, December 30, 2011

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo



"May I kill him?"

David Fincher's astonishing adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is, among many superlatives, the best James Bond movie in years, right down to the disturbing, eye-popping opening credits set to Academy Award-winning composer Trent Reznor and Karen O.'s cover of Led Zepplin's "Immigrant Song". The rocking sequence, eclipsing the fearsome opening credits of Fincher's 1995 serial killer yarn Se7en, immerses us in the oily, black thoughts of Lizbeth Salander (a revelatory Rooney Mara), the titular title character. Cutting right from the opening credits to Daniel Craig as 007 -- pardon me, as disgraced Swedish journalist Mikail Blomkvist -- only further invokes Dragon Tattoo as the Bond movie Fincher would never be hired to make, but made anyway.

The story of Dragon Tattoo is familiar to the millions who have devoured the novels by Steig Larsson and/or watched the popular Swedish film adaptations starring Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist.  Reeling from bankruptcy and public disgrace, Blomkvist is hired by the patriarch of the Vanger family (Christopher Plummer) to solve the murder of his niece ("Harriet Fucking Vanger," Lisbeth calls her) 40 years ago. Together with hacker and researcher extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander, who was hired by Vanger's lawyer to investigate Blomkvist's suitability to the task, they uncover the Vanger clan's sordid underbelly of Nazism, ritual murder, serial killing, anti-Semitism, torture porn, rape, and incest. The gruesome activities of the Vangers mirror the terrible circumstances Lisbeth herself, a ward of the state because of her own hellish past, finds herself in when she's tortured and brutally raped by her court-appointed overseer. Lisbeth's revenge takes 'an eye for an eye' to a new level. Like the novels and the Swedish films, Fincher's Dragon Tattoo delves deeply into the myriad woman-hating atrocities committed by the Swedes. One wonders if any of this has negatively affected tourism.

The blistering (sexual) chemistry between Craig and Mara is palpable. Craig is in top form, maintaining the gruff masculinity he brings to James Bond while outright eschewing 007's invincibility to violence. Mara is incredible; she emotes through the subtlest of her eyes and facial expressions, conveying not just Lisbeth's intensity and inner torment but her closely-guarded playfulness and hopefulness, especially in the final moments as she allows herself to fall for Blomkvist, the kindest, most honorable man she's ever known. (When Lisbeth enters a room, she likes to say "hey hey," like Krusty The Klown would.) Blomkvist and Salander are an unusual but well-matched pair, noted by everyone from Blomkvist's lover played by Robin Wright to Martin Vanger, the head of the Vanger Corporation, played by Stellan Skarsgard (guess who the real killer is?!).

When Blomkvist finally gets too close to the truth in his investigation, he's tortured and interrogated by Martin in a crackling twist on the Bond villain inviting 007 into his lair and trying to execute him in nearly every Bond movie. The conversation between the dominant Martin and the helpless Blomkvist manages to be simultaneously illuminating, frightening, and amusing (cue Enya). Blomkvist is placed in a terrifying death trap even worse than when James Bond had his balls whacked in Casino Royale. It's Salander who saves him and dispatches Martin in a fiery demise (which both calls back to and foreshadows the next chapter, The Girl Who Played With Fire). The iconography of Lisbeth Salander saving James Bond's life is irresistible.  

Composing gorgeous cinema in every frame, Fincher and his screenwriter Steven Zaillian (delivering career-best work adapting a bestseller for the screen) hack and slash the excesses of the novel while still requiring nearly three hours to tell their version of Dragon Tattoo. The significant divergences include trimming Blomkvist's sexual dalliances with Cecelia Vanger, diving headlong into Lisbeth's corporate espionage to steal Blomkvist's enemy Weinnerstrom's funds and destroy him (Lisbeth asking Mikael for $50,000 for "a smart,  safe investment" and being flabbergasted when he cheerfully agrees is one of Dragon Tattoo's little delights), and their revised ending of how the true fate of Harriet Vanger is revealed, before Lisbeth finds herself heartbroken by Blomkvist's crime of being an oblivious man who lied to her face about resuming his relationship with Robin Wright. Alone again, Lisbeth rides off into the blackest night. All throughout, the pulsing score by Reznor fuels the never-ending dread of the hostile, bleak Swedish winter.

What is the Swedish word for 'sequel', David Fincher?