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'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' is the feel bad movie of the holiday season

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David Fincher’s remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is being marketed as the feel bad movie of the holiday season. After spending almost three hours wading through the darkness, I can see why. Rape, torture, sadism, and serial killers; it’s all part of the twisted web woven in the thriller, one that spawned a blockbuster film series back in 2009 when the film was released.Photo courtesy of Sony.

Both Fincher’s remake and the original film are based on Stieg Larsson’s novels, which have made their way to millions of beach vacations, kindles, airplanes and leisure excursions in the past few years. Yes, the content reads like a pseudo trashy, sleazy thriller, but it’s also the kind of pulpy entertainment that hooks audiences immediately, and doesn’t let go.

It’s a dark, deep hook, as the audience soon finds out when introduced to Lisbeth (Rooney Mara), a psychotic gothic orphan with a case of constant rage and history of abuse.  She’s also an expert hacker and brilliant researcher, called upon by top officials to investigate the grisliest of crimes and seediest of individuals.

In fact, she’s called upon to do an extensive background check on a magazine journalist named Mikael Blomvkist (Daniel Craig) a man who’s been hired to investigate the death of a young girl that occurred decades ago.  She doesn’t leave any detail unscathed.  ‘Sometimes her performs oral sex on her”, she comments in regards to Mikael’s mistress. “Not often enough as far as I’m concerned.”

As the movie unfolds, Mikael realizes the mysterious death may be the work of a serial killer and requests additional help, receiving Lisbeth as a research assistant. Together, they start to re-open the case and search for the girl’s killer, whom is believed to be among the teenager’s wealthy, interconnected family, housed on an estate in Sweden.

 

Fincher as director is first and foremost, an expert storyteller. He creates a remarkably effective slow-burn atmosphere that allows a palpable sense of dread to creep in as each minute passes. He also is superb at connecting the puzzle pieces in a way that stimulates the audience and keeps them constantly engaged, even when an affair stretches to the three-hour mark.

Sadly, Fincher is also confined by the material he must work with, and in the case of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, that can be a bad thing. Opting to inject a certain beauty and polish to essentially an airplane novel isn’t a bad thing. The movie looks gorgeous, even as it fails to really catch fire due to Steven Zaillian’s faithful screenplay. Following the book and previous film closely, it mirrors of all the glaring weaknesses of those efforts.

The biggest issue with the story is that it is a bit anti-climatic. The screws are tightened to such a degree that when the serial killer showdown finally occurs, it kind of a letdown. Then there is the thirty-minute epilogue and abrupt ending that tests audience patience in a big way.

Still, there are plenty of things to like here. In several scenes, Fincher lets his sadist freak flag fly, offering unflinching and uncomfortable moments that expose the underside of humanity. Shades of Se7en and Zodiac are present throughout and create an effective, depraved, and exciting atmosphere at points. The chilly cinematography and set design in appropriately spellbinding, and the muted color scheme appealing.

Finally, the best thing here is the dynamite performances. Mara is absolutely fantastic as the gifted, tortured, damaged Lisbeth, disappearing into the role. She is more “Linda Hamilton” than Noomi Rapace’s original take on the character, but remains undeniably compelling and perhaps even Oscar worthy. Craig is equally solid in an against-type role, ditching rugged confidence to deliver a weak character that winces at the sight of a sewing needle.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a solid adult thriller all things considered. It’s not a great film, and that is a combination of flaws in the core material, and also a lack of chances taken to deviate from the book. Fans of the series will still likely walk away anxiously awaiting the next film.

Contact Jim Teti at jteti@philly2philly.com

Check out Jim's Review of 'Mission Impossible' and 'Sherlock Holmes'

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Pictures courtesy of Sony