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Movie Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

This chilly, compelling 'Dragon' spits fire
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Genres: Drama, Thriller
Running Time: 160 min
Release Date: 2011-12-21
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By "Lawrence Toppman"
The Charlotte Observer

The English-language remake of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” lean as a runway model and taut as an Olympic bowstring, repeats a piece of information just once.

Industrialist Henrik Vangar (Christopher Plummer) hires disgraced journalist Mikael Blomqvist (Daniel Craig) to look into the disappearance of a girl 40 years ago from a Swedish island. Vangar gives Blomkvist names and details about family members, ending with great-nephew Martin (Stellan Skarsgård). “He runs our business,” says Vangar, adding wryly, “as I think I told you.”

The implication is clear: A good investigator shouldn’t need to hear things twice. Nor should an alert audience, and director David Fincher and writer Steven Zaillian require – and earn – our strict attention.

Except for one nifty twist, they have followed the outline of Stieg Larsson’s novel. (And that twist makes sense, given the story’s parameters.) Yet they find small ways to freshen the story: For instance, the clue linking the predations of a serial killer gets uncovered accidentally by Blomkvist’s daughter, not the eerie title character.

That young computer wizard, played here by Rooney Mara, differs slightly from her Swedish predecessor: Noomi Rapace (who’s currently on view in the “Sherlock Holmes” sequel) seemed more feral and psychologically troubled. Mara’s Lisbeth Salander has a shade more humor and humanity, which makes her relationship with Blomqvist more credible and the ending of the 2011 movie more poignant.

This film has two of Fincher’s happiest trademarks: It’s full of information and stretches over a remarkably long time (165 minutes), yet it’s neither confusing nor overextended. He and Zaillian introduce more details than the Swedish film had, including a significant role for Blomkvist’s editor/paramour (Robin Wright).

They and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth aim for verisimilitude, from the blistering snows on the island to the depressing tenements of Stockholm to the signs and newspapers in Swedish. (Those are actually distracting, as everyone speaks English.) Just as importantly, they’ve hired celebrated British actors who bring credibility to small parts: Geraldine James, Joely Richardson, Martin Jarvis and Steven Berkoff round out the list of suspects.

The exceptional craft of the storytelling may grip you even if you’re familiar with both the book and the 2009 Swedish movie, which was itself quite good. Editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall cut quickly during the hunt sequences and slowly during conversations, letting us catch up. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have written a percussive, pulsing score that makes us feel as uncomfortable as the images Blomqvist has to see and the brutality Salander experiences. (The rape is grimmer than the one from 2009.)

As we watch these two investigators snap back and forth between disturbing computer images or zip back and forth between Stockholm and the icy island, we can forget the destination most of us probably know and simply enjoy the journey. On rare occasions, as it does here, this approach can yield a first-rate thriller.

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12/19/2011 - The Charlotte Observer - Lawrence Toppman

Did we need another film of Stieg Larsson’s novel after the successful Swedish one? The answer turns out to be yes.

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