Saturday, December 31, 2011

“Dragon Tattoo”: Rooney Mara rocks

When it was announced that David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network) was going to direct an American adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, fans of the bestselling thriller were holding their collective breath. After all, the entire trilogy of novels by Stieg Larsson had already been turned into very successful movies in Sweden, with Noomi Rapace giving a star-making performance in the title role. The films were released briefly to theaters in the U.S., but gained a large following on video. There was some doubt if another version of the story needed to be told. Larsson fans needn’t have worried. Fincher’s film is a moody, well-acted thriller.

Daniel Craig (the screen’s current 007) stars as Mikael Blomkvist, a writer/publisher who has just lost a libel case. He is summoned by industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) who asks him to solve the decades old disappearance and possible murder of his niece. As Mikael weaves through the strands of family history, he finds some disturbing facts buried beneath the surface. At the same time, Lisbeth Salander, a punkish hacker who is a ward of the state (and has a violent past) is dealing with the loss of her kindly guardian, who has suffered a stroke. A brutish lawyer named Nils Bjurman becomes her new guardian/advisor. When he abuses & attacks her, Lisbeth exacts a horrible revenge. Eventually, Blomkvist’s & Salander’s paths cross, and old secrets & hidden truths are revealed.

In one of the year’s best performances, Rooney Mara fully embodies Salander. It’s an astonishing piece of acting, as amazing & revelatory in its own way as Rapace’s take on the character in the Swedish films. Mara conveys much of Lisbeth’s pain, anger and emotional turmoil with her expressive face, and sometimes with little or no dialogue. Craig is solid as Blomkvist, and familiar faces such as Joely Richardson, Robin Wright and Stellan Skarsgard round out the supporting cast. 

Fincher’s direction is assured and powerful. He was absolutely the right choice for this material, having previously directed the films Se7en and Fight Club. Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth's excellent work defines the cool, icy look of the film, as does Trent Reznor’s score. They both enrich the stark atmosphere of the story. The film completely evokes the world of Larsson's novels, and is stylish, electric and often unsettling. In some ways, it's a closer adaptation than the Swedish version, though there are some minor changes to the ending of the novel, which work fairly well in the context of the film.

If you’re looking for a powerful mystery that goes down some chilling roads, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is worth seeing. But, be warned: If you’re not familiar with the book, this is a dark tale, with some disturbing scenes and imagery. The violence isn’t glorified, but this film fully earns its R rating. If you're a fan of the novels, or even the Swedish film adaptation, this version is recommended viewing, especially for Rooney Mara’s incredible performance; she rocks.

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