Sunday, April 1, 2012

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

I grew up watching Roger Moore, tolerated Timothy Dalton, and was disappointed by Pierce Brosnan, but of all the different incarnations of James Bond that I have seen, Daniel Craig stands out as the best.  So it was with much interest that I sat down to watch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) even though I had stayed away from the novel or the original film.  I had wanted to it during its theatrical run, but the release was oddly timed for December.  It is hardly what I would call Christmas season material.

Besides his turn as Bond, Craig has delivered strong performances in Layer Cake, Munich, and Defiance so my expectations were high for his portrayal of disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist.  However, a funny thing happened along the way to discovering the truth behind the disappearance of Harriet Vanger (Moa GarpendalRooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander completely stole the show.  There are few iconic performances in which an actor takes on a physical and psychological transformation in order to completely disappear into a role (DeNiro in Raging Bull, Bale in The Machinist) and Mara’s work in in this film resides not far outside that pantheon.

The plot focuses on a decades old murder involving the wealthy Vanger family that is as decayed as the trail of dead corpses that have seemingly been following the clan for over four decades.  Craig’s Blomkvist is brought in to write a memoir – but really to revive an investigation into the mystery.  He enlists the help of Mara’s Salander – a brilliant but troubled investigator.  This is a dark world that director David Fincher drops us into and we would expect nothing less from the man.  Everything and everyone is soiled and violence is the most prevalent form of communication. 

This film is most definitely not for everyone as there is a fierce brutality that underlies all the action.  It seems that religious undertones are established in the film only to ensure that viewers understand these values can and will be easily shattered in the most perverse manner.  The film is entertaining – albeit slightly predictable – because Rooney, Craig, and the very talented cast that includes Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright, and Christopher Plummer own their roles and navigate these violent, incestuous, and duplicitous waters with the tacit disdain that their roles require.  But make no mistake, Rooney stands out amongst the accomplished cast.

I would recommend this film for a rental.  It is a dark and brooding film that for the most part remains entertaining.  Sony Pictures has already committed to moving forward with the sequel despite its mediocre performance at the domestic box office ($103M), so you can be sure that we will once again revisit the world of Lisbeth Salander.

Standout Performance: Rooney Mara does a great job of separating herself from Noomi Rapace’s 2009 performance in the Sweedish take on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Visually it is impossible to believe she was Zuckerberg’s lost love in The Social Network.


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