Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Dir: David Fincher
Wr: Steven Zallian, from the book by Steig Larson
Release Date: December 21, 2011
RT: 158 mins
David Fincher is unmatched as a director. Helming The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will surely garner him the awards and the recognition for a unique and visionary body of work.
Okay, enough of that shit. Dragon Tattoo is a badass movie. And the eponymous “girl with” is truly our best antihero yet – and she wears the t-shirt to prove it.
My jaw was hanging for scenes during the film which do what filmmaker marvels like Fincher are capable of doing – wielding those master strokes. It’s a bit sad when this is the first movie of the year I’ve felt my cold, dead movie-going corpse stirred into action. Previous years saw the best fare packed into the last month or two of the year – this is nothing new. That Dragon Tattoo is one of a drastically shrinking tribe of noteworthy American movies, though, is a subject for another time.
We start the film with where Fincher started out in his career – with a brutally gorgeous music video. The opening title sequence is a feast for senses. The soundtrack kicks sonic ass and the smooth, sexy, dangerous images roll out and pour over you, the black ink Fincher is about to paint with raw and shining.
Then we are dropped right into it. You mentally prepare yourself for two hours and forty minutes of people talking and figuring things out. Fincher likes these stories. He likes the complex. After cutting his directorial teeth on music videos, he was hired to do Alien 3, which launched not only what would become his signature aesthetic (drab color sets, sepia hues and an almost Spartan spatiality blended with a kind of 60s Polaroid) but a sense of taking the potentially tedious and making it thrilling. How do you sell a story about two women trapped in a room for two hours? With Panic Room Fincher’s camera lives inside the enormous apartment it inhabits like a spirit, roaming through solid objects, dropping three flights through the floors which separate them. Se7en still stands as one of the best crime thrillers ever made (it’s always raining) and both Zodiac and The Social Network are examples of taking an intricate story with a plethora of details and fitting those into a style of shooting, editing, and scoring which serves them to the utmost.
Dragon Tattoo is a rock star film. Those magic moments burn like hot needles. I mean, the girl chases down the dude with the bashed jaw on her frikkin motorcycle through the wintry night like a fireball vigilante.
Stieg Larsson’s tattooed heroine “Lisbeth” is the answer to every femme fatale who’s emerged since the 80s and 90s and has been as two-dimensional as the supporting or secondary characters the female actors were relegated to before then. This is no sword-wielding, one-liner-spouting uberchick in a skin tight diving suit here. Lisbeth is dimensional, somehow there and yet not there, as real as the person sitting next to you in the theatre and yet larger than life. She is vulnerable, tough as nails, quiet as ink draining down a well.
There was giggling going on in that theatre during some of those silences, I have to say. Tittering from some of the anonymous in the low dark. No doubt quite a few viewers were tickled to see the book which had lived in their minds come to life on screen, no doubt they were happy to have the insider info, so much that they had to squeak a little bit trying to contain their foresight.
I didn’t read the book. I’m glad not to have. The story was fresh and unpredictable. I’m sure I would have enjoyed it either way, but the pleasure, I really felt, was all mine. And I didn’t need to laugh.
I didn’t laugh when the old man, Henrik, offers Mikael the job, and talks about the sordid, unsavory, corrupt group of people called his family. Nor when, meanwhile, Lisbeth is being taken advantage of by her case worker, equally deranged and corrupt. Not even when she reverses the situation on him with the most satisfying kind of revenge was I laughing, no. My eyes were wide, my breathing shallow; I took it in.
Fincher got to play. I mean, he really got to play. I remember reading somewhere hearing the 50 year-old saying that he has a dark side he’s only begun to tap. The unflinching way in which he portrays some of Larsson’s macabre scenes are Fincher with full command of both his craft and his demons. When the moments hit, they are sudden, like an assault in the night. They are immediate; nothing is telegraphed, nothing is gratuitously drawn out. You can feel the man behind the scenes making these excellent choices, knowing all too well where just another who-done-it has gone before, and making the better decision. It’s a pleasure to watch because you are being respected. To both Larsson and Fincher’s credit, in Dragon Tattoo, people act like people. When they are hurt, often they are scared. They may run. When they don’t get what they want, they get pissed.
Again, a shame that this is all there is really to talk about after an entire year of cinema. Oh, sure, there were a couple flicks which stood out, here and there, but this was the one. And it’s not like Dragon Tattoo is in the most unblemished company – the top ten grossing films of 2011 were all sequels, and Dragon Tattoo, as we all know, is adapted material, it’s a remake, and it’s one of at least two more to come in the franchise, so we’re talking about another bandwagon movie.
Maybe that’s why this first story ends as suddenly as it begins. Maybe that’s why Fincher took the project on – seeing it as a chance to keep flexing these toned muscles and stay living in the smoky, olive-drab atmosphere his characters inhabit as long as he can. Or, maybe this is Fincher’s only contribution to what will undoubtedly be another juggernaut, another gravy train. Who knows. Who cares. The movie is brilliant. And the girl with the dragon tattoo likely wouldn’t give a shit one way or the other.