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The Independent Critic

Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, Robin Wright, Stellan Skarsgard, Christopher Plummer, David Dencik, Joely Richardson, Geraldine James
David Fincher
Steven Zaillian, Stieg Larsson
Rated R
158 Mins.

 "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)" Review  
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I didn't really want to see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo again. I have nothing against Rooney Mara nor Daniel Craig nor David Fincher nor anyone else involved with this American-made production based upon Stieg Larsson's posthumously published crime thriller trilogy, "The Millennium Series."

In fact, it's quite the contrary. I love everyone involved with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, though I will confess to my own skepticism regarding Mara's ability to come even close to the awesome performance of Noomi Rapace in the original Swedish production of the film.

The truth is that Rooney Mara likely gives a career-defining performance here, easily the best of her career. However, Mara's best still can't hold a candle to that of Rapace, whose three-film performance as Lisbeth Salander was one of the most criminally under-recognized performances of recent years. In all likelihood, Mara will find herself with an Oscar nomination for her performance here. While I wouldn't argue with such recognition, it only serves as a reminder of just how narrow-minded the Academy can be in not recognizing more foreign-language performances in its major categories.

To his credit, director David Fincher does manage to make The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo a fresh beast with a largely different vibe than that of its predecessor. While much of the material here is the same, Fincher's working from a script by Steven Zaillian and Fincher, as well, has likely created a film that is more cinematically viable and interesting to the moviegoer's eye. The major coup for Fincher comes with the casting of Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, whose chemistry is simultaneously exciting and dark and disturbing and, most surprisingly of all, infused with touches of tenderness. The chemistry does flag a bit as their relationship develops, mostly because Craig's more reserved performance occasionally feels a tad out of balance with the infinitely more expressive performance from Mara.  

For those not in the know, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo explores the mystery surrounding the disappearance of a long missing heiress. Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is a journalist recently slammed by a libel suit who is hired to investigate unsolved crime, while Lisbeth Salander (Mara) is a heavily pierced bisexual hacker with enough baggage to fill a Boeing 747 who ends up teaming with Blomkvist in more ways than one as they explore the rather psychotic, incestuous and just plain disturbing family tree of one Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), an industrialist who believes that his grandniece, Harriet, was murdered but has never been able to absolutely solve the crime.

There's nothing particularly wrong with Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, though it feels rather surprising that Fincher turns in what feels like a more austere and elegant film than one ever would have expected. The original, directed by Niels Arden Oplev, is bolder, more daring and far edgier than Fincher's production despite the fact that Fincher's film is arguably more graphic. There are moments in the film that are devastatingly brutal, such as when Lisbeth takes vengeance upon her legal guardian (Yorick van Wageningen), an inhumane beast whose brutal rape of her may actually qualify as even more graphic than it was in its disturbing manifestation within the original film.

Christopher Plummer, who gave such a masterful performance this year in Beginners, again knocks it out of the ballpark though in a much lesser role as Henrik Vanger. Stellan Skarsgard is exceptional as Harriet's brother, while Joely Richardson also shines as an estranged relative of the family.

While one can argue that Fincher holds back a tad too much at times, D.P. Jeff Cronenweth's camera work is stellar, especially once the film arrives on the Vanger estate. While I'll confess a preference for the cloudier, grimmer feeling of the original film, again it must be noted that Fincher has done a solid job of creating an entirely different beast re-imagining the same source material. Fincher also benefits from bringing back his Oscar-winning music team from The Social Network, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, whose original music infuses the film with the false promise of a higher energy, more taut thriller than Fincher delivers in its 158-minute running time.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a good film, a film that stands on its own even for those who've seen the original Swedish version of the film or, for that matter, those who simply are quite familiar with Larsson's trilogy. Fincher was in a difficult situation when he agreed to tackle this project, most either projecting massive failure or an out of the ballpark home run. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is simply an incredibly well done thriller featuring what will likely be a small handful of Oscar nominees led by Rooney Mara's relentless and unforgettable performance in the leading role.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic