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Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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Director David Fincher’s ( Se7en, The Social Network) version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a faithful telling of the novel by Steig Larsson, and it’s so similar to the Swedish movie from two years ago that I wonder whether it was really necessary.

Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara take over the lead roles. Like all the characters, they speak English with subtle Swedish accents. Craig, so bold and commanding as James Bond, fades back a bit as an investigative journalist recently beaten in court over a libel suit. Mara makes as good a Lisbeth as did Noomi Rapace, brooding deeply, exuding strength and confidence except when the plot contrives to have her be a victim.

Familiar Story

Craig steps back and Mara steps up
Craig steps back and Mara steps up

The story is familiar to readers and moviegoers. Michael Blomkvist (Craig) wrote a scandalous article about a businessman. He was convicted of libel (though the story makes it clear he is not guilty) and forced to step away from Millennium, the magazine he co-edited with his lover.

Before he can become a recluse, he is hired by the patriarch of the Vanger family (Christopher Plummer) to investigate the death of little Harriet who disappeared when she was 16, back in 1964. Vanger explains that her killer must be someone in his family. None of the family talk to each other anymore. Some of them were Nazis. The only normal one is Martin (Stellan Skarsgard) who now runs the family business. They all live on a little island, in separate houses.

Meanwhile, Lisbeth Salander, had compiled the dossier on Blomkvist for Mr. Vanger and his lawyer. Now she’s looking for her next “research” job (read: hacking and espionage). She has to check in weekly with a sleazeball social worker, which she doesn’t put up with for very long.

She re-enters the story when Michael starts making progress solving the mystery, and when Mr. Vanger suffers a heart attack. Vanger’s lawyer asks Michael to hurry up the investigation while Mr. Vanger still lives. He requests a research assistant, and the lawyer recommends Salander who did excellent work checking Blomkvist’s background.

Color and Sound

The film’s palette (credit cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth and production designer Donald Graham Burt) is cold and dark, and so is its mood. The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is fittingly cold and dark, too. Their music is sort of noise-based (think TV on the Radio), not symphonic — but still movie-dramatic. In contrast, in the film’s one musical joke, David Fincher reveals that he hates Enya’s music.

Fincher tells a good story, but I’m not sure that there’s anything here that’s really outstanding. I felt the same way after The Social Network, and people I respect strongly disagreed. Maybe they will think The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is brilliant too. I find it to be solid, but not outstanding.

Source Material

Lisbeth is a very strong character. She is so powerful on screen that it’s hard to imagine her as a victim. Nevertheless, in a couple of key scenes, she is not only a victim but a defeated and demoralized victim. Yet later, she is a justice-dispensing ass kicker. From what I know of Lisbeth, the “demoralized” girl doesn’t fit. Sometimes it feels like she’s a female character in a novel written by a male.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has three scenes that feel like endings, thus the pacing feels a bit weird. This too comes from the novel and not from Fincher and screenwriter Steve Zaillian. One of the key villains dies in a fiery crash. But it’s not over until the central mystery is solved. (The movie deviates from the book somewhat, but it’s tighter here.) Then there is a reunion. Then there is a reckoning with another of the story’s villains that takes an emotionally heavy amount of screen time. Last but not least is a personal farewell that actually does make for a good ending. All these endings drag the movie out to more than two and a half hours — though I admit it went by pretty fast. Fincher handles it as well as possible — I think the choppiness is in the source material and not the adaptation.

That source material, for whatever reason, is popular enough to keep spinning off movies. But I will be satisfied if this is the last The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for a long time.