Until its last quarter hour, you won’t find a better, more beautifully realized, more intricate film than helmer David Fincher’s English-language version of writer Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo–the runaway best-seller pulp potboiler made into a Swedish film (also excellent) two years ago.
The first hour is near-perfection in laying out Larsson’s rather old-fashioned plot in terms of 2lst-century cinematic techniques–which this film buff, anyway, thinks are well-nigh breathtaking. In that hour alone, director Fincher (The Social Network) looms as a giant among American moviemakers. With somoe intelligently streamlined plot points that differ from both the novel and Swedish film, Fincher’s Dragon drives deep into the story and becomes hypnotically absorbing.
Aided considerably by a propulsive soundtrack, employing unconventional instruments, by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who also scored The Social Network), the story intercuts between its two leads, played by Daniel Craig and an inspired Rooney Mara. When it final unites them, in a triumph of human chemistry, the movie soars.
It’s a rough, raw movie, a pulp fiction crossed with a procedural mystery, an investigation going deep, as it turns out, into the dark recesses of the human soul–or maybe its opposite. Its violence is fierce and graphic. Its sex scenes–from rape to love–are eye-openers. Its unconventional dénouement rings true enough here with post-modern psychology.
A scandal-tainted journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Craig), is hired by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), once the greatest industrialist in Sweden, who, with his nefarious clan, inhabits a private island full of secrets. What’s Vanger obsessed about after 40 years? The disappearance of his grandniece. Vanger hires Blomkvist to piece together four decades’ worth of clues in this cold case. Our journalist, escaping recent public disgrace, accepts what he at first thinks preposterous.
To do research–which in the 2lst century means hacking–Blomkvist takes on a highly recommended assistant, punk hacker Lisbeth Salander, darker-than-Goth, a totally alienated victim of heinous crimes but with genius computer skills. As played by Rooney Mara, who steals the film from everyone, Salander seems almost entirely a creature of our strange new century, a character we’ve never seen up close in a film before, at least not played with this much intensity. Mara is a shoo-in for every movie award in the book, and for the right reasons: She makes this story resonate in every possible way.
What happens next? Well, almost everything. This movie transforms pulp into something like art, that which ennobles through deepest trial. With Benjamin Button, Fight Club and The Social Network under his belt, Fincher caps them all with Dragon Tattoo. Try see.