Goth. Punk. Pierced. Tattooed. Convicted. Genius. Anti-social. Chain smoker. Hacker. That’s Lisbeth Salander. And she’s the girl with the dragon tattoo.
The phenomenon started in 2006 with the release of this book:
Now, keep in mind that the title translates into Men Who Hate Women, a theme the recurs throughout the series. This was released posthumously, because unfortunately Stieg Larsson passed away in 2004. Anyway, it was a worldwide hit, with the rest of the trilogy and film adaptations released within the next few years. I’ve only read the first and am halfway through the second. Trust me, the film adaptations don’t live up to the novels, but my focus is on Fincher’s movie.
The plot of Dragon Tattoo is straightforward: Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), the founder of Millennium magazine, has been charged with libel for making accusations against billionaire Hans-Erik Wennerstrom (Ulf Friberg). Shortly after this, he is recruited by ageing tycoon Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to do two things: write Vanger’s autobiography, which is merely his cover, and solve a 40 year old mystery. That mystery surrounds the disappearance of his niece, Harriet. At the same time, we follow Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), the girl with the dragon tattoo. Obviously, their stories collide at some point.
Let me write down what not to do in Skyfall…
The movie is extremely well made and technically brilliant. Hell, it even won an Oscar for its Editing (Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall). The opening credit sequence is fucking amazing:
This movie cost $90 million and it can be seen in every frame. Fincher makes film look so beautiful. The cinematography is great and the music from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross sets the tone in every scene. The performances from Craig and Mara are what you would expect from good actors, but Mara goes the extra mile through her character by being subjected to sadistic acts and showing up nude onscreen a lot (it pushes its R rating to the limit). It’s an exhilarating debut and I can’t wait to see what else she can do.
That said, though this movie is daring, there is no purpose that it wishes to achieve. It invests next to nothing in its characters and Fincher assumes that the mystery would otherwise keep us engaged if his characters don’t. Fincher is no stranger to hardcore crime (this is the guy who made Se7en and Fight Club and Panic Room), but his other movies had strong characters to guide us through the darkness (Freeman and Pitt in Se7en, Pitt and Norton in Fight Club). In this movie, events occur so abruptly you’re left wondering what the fuck is going on, and those events end. For those of you who have read the book, the abuse that had such shocking impact in the book is shown, but I really didn’t give a fuck when it happened. WHY? Because it was odd…I mean if I hadn’t read the book, I would be shocked that it happens as if it was a daily thing. Similarly, when Blomkvist and Salander hook up, Salander just takes off her clothes and Bob’s your uncle. Luckily, Fincher ends these things just as quickly as he starts them and he doesn’t give them a second thought.
Steven Zaillian adapted the book, and he aims for simplicity in this complex mystery. At times, that approach does work (notice the ending), but oftentimes it leaves the depths of the story quite shallow, which probably explains why everything doesn’t have the impact that it should have. But there is one scene in the movie (the climax) between Martin Vanger and Blomkvist (if you’ve read the novel, you know what I’m talking about), that is so simple and yet so interesting that it makes the whole movie seem like crap by comparison. Maybe I hated it because I was watching the same story for the third time, I don’t know.
At the end of the day, Hollywood produces well-made films from veterans like Fincher. I guess after The Social Network, he said, let’s do what I do best. Let’s do it quick and cheap. Yeah, cheap is the right word for this movie, however well-made it is (riding on the phenomenon). Let’s hope the sequels are better than this one….