I was engaged by the fuss around the books from which this film is based and the Swedish versions of the film that came out in the states last year. While I really had no idea as to what the books were about I rented that first foreign film to see what all the talk was about. I am not ashamed to say by the cover art I perceived it to be some kind of indie teen story that depicted outcasts and how they were picked on in all their gothic glory while dealing with their issues in the most general of ways. Needless to say, I was not expecting much. In fact, the last thing I would have expected was a grand murder mystery tale that hearkens back to novels of old. I was shocked and surprised by "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and by the end of that film I was a loyal fan. I could not wait to see the American versions of these films especially upon hearing that David Fincher would be making them. What Fincher has brought to the first of these very violent, disturbing, and blunt stories is a sense of style that was lacking in the Swedish versions. Every single frame is filled with such detail and ferocity it is hard to pull your eyes from the screen even when something horrible is happening. The lure of the film though is in the title and though many fans of the original film trilogy would have you believe no one Fincher cast would do a better job than Noomi Rapace in the title role you would be lying if you didn't admit Rooney Mara is just as much a revelation as Lisbeth Salander. Mara owns the role, bringing the exact amount of cynicism, sarcasm, intelligence and touch of actual emotion required for the role. This is a grand telling of a grand story that is only a disappointment in terms of already knowing what is going to happen and how it will play out before stepping into the theater. In that regard the personal touch that usually feels evident in a Fincher film is somewhat absent here. Still, we have a cold, dark film that in many ways is very much an improvement upon the original.

Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) shows Mikael
Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) evidence of his niece's disappearance.
Though the plot of the film can be summed up in a few sentences, this nearly three hour film is nothing short of complex. While I was somewhat skeptical of Daniel Craig's casting in the role of journalist Mikael Blomkvist (I would have preferred someone like Viggo Mortensen) I came to understand why Fincher might cast the rugged actor who has the kind of stand-up guy qualities you need in a leading man. The film opens with Blomkvist being crushed by the media after a story that he wrote in his publication took him to trial and relieved him of his life savings. Blomkvist is a divorced father who has had a long standing affair with his boss at Millennium magazine, Erika Berger. This relationship feels tacked on for most of the film and Robin Wright in the role feels almost unnecessary but knowing what is to come in the later films, she will get her due. The relationship is also used in the final scenes of the film that seem to better connect this first film to the second and third. In the original film trilogy the second and third films felt more like one story split into two with the first being a stand alone piece of work. It seems Fincher is wanting to erase that line and create one large coherent story for his Hollywood versions. In light of the media firestorm surrounding him, Blomkvist removes himself from the world he knows and takes a job offered to him by a wealthy business tycoon by the name of Henrik Vanger. Henrik and his family have many secrets, but the one the he needs resolved before he dies is where is niece Harriet disappeared to over forty years ago. Henrik enlists Mikael to investigate the case. It is unclear as to how Salander will be incorporated into this more intriguing aspect of the story for the first hour or so of the film, but we always have a sense that careful attention need be paid as there is certainly reason for things that happen that we don't necessarily see the purpose of.

Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) looks into old newspaper
clippings while trying to solve a murder.
The initial intrigue of the story is aided by the tension filled pace of the movie, at two and half hours this isn't a short film, but never did I feel like the film drug or did I catch myself looking at my watch. What really makes this stand out is the odd pairing of Salander and Blomkvist. The partnership and romantic involvement of these two is not only odd to us but to them as well it seems, they work well together though. So well in fact it is the bond of intelligence and determination that creates the believability of them getting along and becoming more than just co-workers. Craig and Mara understand their characters as well. They see where the attraction comes from and they understand the dynamics at play on the island where they perform most of their research. It is that air of distrust, greed, and brutality that hung over the original film with such grunge that graces this one with more of a reality. There is less a sense of immanent doom here, but more of a bleak atmosphere. This landscape with which Fincher paints his story has also been populated by menacing characters that are embodied by some great performances. The most notable being Christopher Plummer as the Vanger family patriarch Henrik. Plummer gives the mood to his scenes that captures the tone Fincher wants. It is disturbingly perfect how well they work together and I hope they have the chance to reunite after Fincher finishes the rest of this trilogy. Stellan Skarsgard who plays Harriet's brother Martin works his ever changing face into a mean, cynical man who appears helpful but lends the most menacing of eyes towards our protagonists. Ultimately though, this is Mara's movie and she rises to the task with no fears. The girl has to endure some pretty brutal violence and rape scenes that without giving much away are there to illustrate the theme of the film that focuses on people affected by such violence. These elements set "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" apart as not only a murder mystery but as a film in general.

Lisbeth and Mikael form a strange bond over the course
of their work together.
This was easily one of my most anticipated films of the year and in every way this became everything I wanted it to be. As much as I enjoyed the Swedish film, to have this version where we don't have to read subtitles the whole time is a relief that allows us to focus on the beautiful way in which Fincher captures such a graphic story. The images he produces give so much more insight into each character or situation than you could imagine. These are not just surface images that carry no weight, but are instead each little epic poems strung together to create a sprawling mystery. There is nothing I love more than a murder mystery and such a story has never been executed with such depth and style as it has here. And though it was hard to find anything radically different from the original film,other than Fincher's trademark style and look, I cannot help but wonder what else he could have done. There is a service to telling the story that he had to fulfill and in doing so there is an element of familiarity with this new version that cannot be dismissed. Fincher and company are not to be blamed for this, they simply serviced the story they were given in the best possible way they knew how. It is not that they intended for the film to feel empty in certain spots, but some things turn out that way and you simply have no control over it. That is the magic of filmmaking; that no matter how hard you try to define the aura the movie will take on, it is usually not determined until you see that final cut when all of the elements come together. This film has plenty of amazing elements and is indeed a satisfying feature by any standard. There is just that small spark missing, that something special that I doubt even Lisbeth Salander could pinpoint.

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