Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sadistic, yes, but ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ delivers suspense, thrills

By Steve Crum

First, no. I have neither seen the already released Swedish versions of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series nor have I read Stieg Larsson’s best selling books. But how could I have avoided--even though I was not trying to do so-- hearing about the books and the movies? Point made, since you need to to realize the lack of tattoo girl baggage I brought to the screening of this English language adaptation. Director David Fincher has crafted a disturbing dazzler of a thriller, embellished by sharp acting.

Central to the murder-mystery plot, explained ahead, is the complex title heroine, Lisbeth Salander, brilliantly portrayed by Rooney Mara. Salander is indeed a girl just turning legal age, whose dark features accentuate her goth clothing, facial piercing, and demeanor. Tattoos decorate her body, including a large dragon. As the story progresses, we know Salander is far more than a loner with dubious sexuality and limited intellect.

Daniel Craig plays the driven writer/researcher (“financial reporter” is his official designation) Mikael Blomkvist. Looking for work after losing his job in a libel scandal, Blomkvist is hired by wealthy Swedish industrialist, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer). Journeying to a remote village on the Swedish coast, Blomkvist is initially surprised Vanger wants him to solve a cold case murder of his niece, Harriet. Missing for 40 years, she is assumed to be dead since her body was never found. Vanger believes she was murdered by one of his relatives who live nearby. Interestingly, his family members are pretty much estranged from each other, yet live in separate houses within walking distance.

Agreeing to accept what is a private eye’s job, Blomkvist chooses the unlikely Lisbeth Salander as his assistant/researcher. The irony is that Salander is an employee for the security firm that helped ruin Blomkvist’s previous career. Nonetheless, she impresses Blomkvist with her unusual investigative methods. She is likewise impressed with him, and the challenge to solve a possible murder. Her drive, memory skills and high IQ prove invaluable. Still, Lisbeth’s motorcycle riding, black leather persona symbolizes a life of mistrust and pain. As both Blomkvist and Salander delve into Vanger Family history, it is apparent this family has its own demons, including multiple murders.

While the murder mystery itself is involving, there is a disturbing side-story regarding Lisbeth’s financial status, and her legal guardianship. Circumstances have placed her under the legal power of a sleaze who demands sexual favors from her so she can receive minimal money for food. It turns out he is not only sleazy, but brutal. Without specifying and revealing too much, just realize Lisbeth is a lethal force unto herself. I could not help comparing her to the Kalinda character in TV’s The Good Wife. Kalinda Sharma, played by Archie Panjabi, works as an investigator for a law firm, and will do virtually anything to get what she needs, professionally and personally. While they are kindred spirits, it is Lisbeth who possesses the cutthroat DNA.

Speaking of violence, there are heaps of it, including with sadism, rape and torture, in TGWTDT. It continues to amaze and (truthfully) disturb me that studios choose to release violent, exploitive, R-rated films during the season of good will toward men. But, a dollar is a dollar, and apparently justification enough.

Artistically, TGWTDT boasts fine photography (Jeff Cronenweth), particularly of snowy, Swedish landscapes; and interiors by production designer Donald Graham Burt. The unusual yet memorable score is by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

No doubt that the American film version of the next book, The Girl Who Played With Fire, is planned.
GRADE On an A to F Scale: A-
The trailer gives you an idea of the action and suspense:


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