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Written by: Steven Zaillian based on the novel by Stieg Larsson

Directed by: David Fincher

Starring: Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, Stellan Skarsgard, Christopher Plummer, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright

What is it about Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo that has reached so many people? Really it’s just par-for-the-course crime pulp, but there’s something in Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) that rings with people. I believe its her savage fury and the chord of pain that strikes in her every action. It comes, also, from Larsson’s perceptive infusion of ubiquitous technology into the creaky old closed-room-style crime drama. In this film, Fincher fills old European rooms with bright, cold LED lights, computers and printers and cameras, clicking and buzzing and droning, and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ soundtrack does the same. This is the first in a long time that I can remember watching a film and feeling for certain that it was made with the theatre’s big screen in mind. Fincher cuts quickly from long stretches of nearly-black dark rooms and hallways, and burning-white, overexposed rooms full of lights and windows and whiteness. Flickering back and forth between, essentially, black and white, slowly building until it is nearly a strobing effect by the film’s climax. This is a movie that has an almost physical presense, one that makes you squirm, panic, sweat, and then it can strike you still where you sit.

There’s no better choice for an American remake of Larsson’s hugely popular pulpy crime novel than David Fincher. He’s got such a talent for infusing dark stories with an artful flare without glorifying or simplifying. It’s not an enormous shock, then, that his film provides not merely an adequate film adaptation of a popular book, but the sort of film that elevates a decent novel into a work of true cinematic art. Fincher is smart to still set the story in Sweden, to use Swedish names, to tell the story as it is supposed to be told. The script from Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, Moneyball) smartly sticks close to the book, closer even than the original Swedish adaptation. Fincher directs this film with the same icy, digital eye with which he filmed The Social Network (2010) and again uses a score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross as he did for that film. Oddly, though both films share a very similar aesthetic, Fincher uses the same techniques to point towards similarly dark human tendencies that connect films that really couldn’t be further apart. Cold photography and Reznor’s meticulous-as-always electronic score construct a very atmospheric film concerned with the complicated way that technology gives us unprecedented access to others yet results in disconnect and alienation. The product and symbol of this society is Lisbeth Salander the lean and angry hacker goth who is at the center of this film. Fincher seems to “get” Lisbeth on a really intimate level, presenting her alt-culture facade with a great accuracy, and together with  Mara constructs a Lisbeth that is perhaps a little more emotionally delicate and a little more interesting than the excellent portrayal of her from Noomi Rapace.  Mara is fierce and savage but she’s also, at times, hilarious in her apathy, and tender in the way she loves (when she loves); this is a commanding performance the comes seemingly from nowhere and is a very rare thing indeed. A turn from Daniel Craig, proving he’s not just James bond, is much more intense and subtle than I’ve seen from him before, and he’s looking much more weathered than usual here.

This is not the light popcorn fare most folks seem to think of it as, but an intense and, at times, disturbing film. Fincher seems to be very attched to the story, and to Lisbeth and from such strong attachment he has brought forth one of the most forceful films of his career. I wouldn’t want to overstate this, so please take this as not an exclaimation but merely an observation: In a sense, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the culmination of Fincher’s work so far.  Throughout his career, David Fincher has produced a number of films, tenuously connected on their surface, but each one demonstrating some combination of similar themes; anger, abuse, violence, cruelty, megalomania, self-destruction, alienation, frailty, identity, self-doubt, paranoia, and so on. In The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo the threads of Fincher’s career all meet in a much more concise and pointed way than they have in the past. Revolutionary film reading I know it’s not, but I think its an observation worth making.

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