It’s not often that a movie comes along and takes your breath away and refuses to let you breathe. You know the kind of movie I’m talking about. The ones where it demands your complete and undivided attention, commanding you to sit on the edge of your seat, utterly transfixed with what’s happening on the screen. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is that kind of movie, and there are really only two words that can sum up the entirety of this film.
Those words were uttered more than once by yours truly while watching the American version of the story (it’s not a remake, but a different interpretation of the books), and I mean every word when I say that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of the best movies I have ever seen. The acting, the cinematography, the violence, the plot, the music – everything about this movie left me floored, and I was on the edge of my seat almost the entire time (except when I was shirking back in fear, but I’ll get to that later).
Before I get into this review, though, let me start off by saying that I have no knowledge of the story regarding the books or the Swedish film trilogy. All I knew going into this movie was that I loved the trailer, I loved the cast, and that I knew it was going to be intense. It was in this mind-set that I entered the theatre, sat down in my seat, and suffered a near-fatal brain explosion. But I lived and managed to drive home, sit down, and start typing up this review.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo features an absolute stellar cast: Christopher Plummer, Daniel Craig, Stellan Skarsgård, Joely Richardson. These seasoned actors bring their very best to the table in this film, each delivering realistic and believable performances; too often in thriller movies do characters come across as forced or strained, but such is never the case with the characters in this film.
Plummer plays the patriarch of a warped and broken family, who hires an investigative journalist (Craig’s character) to write his biography and to solve the mystery of a family member’s disappearance/death. Plummer’s role (while small) is pivotal, for he sets the wheels in motion for the rest of the story (but I shan’t get into that), and Plummer brings a certain charm to the character that makes him incredibly endearing.
Craig’s character, Mikael, however, is a powerful lead, and I would daresay this is Craig’s finest performance yet. Mikael is a flawed character that sometimes bites off more than he can chew, but he pursues his goals with an unrelenting passion that Craig vividly brings to life. Craig is a terrific Bond, yes, and he has acted in other great movies – such as Defiance and Road to Perdition – but his portrayal of Mikael takes the cake.
But enough about the big-name actors – we already know they can act. What about the new girl, Rooney Mara? After all, the title of the movie is directly referencing her (she actually has a pretty wicked dragon tattoo in this movie), but did she deliver? Was she able to stand against the acting giants in this film and not pale in comparison?
In short, the answer is yes.
Mara’s transformation into the twisted, tormented, and somewhat-psychotic character of Lisbeth Salander is breathtaking, to say the very least. She completely gives herself up to the character, going so far as to get several body piercings, drastic haircuts, and bleaching her eyebrows, and she channels Lisbeth’s spirit with an unyielding intensity – though that’s not to say she was over-the-top! Mara’s interpretation of the character is a controlled chaos, one with a burning rage that smolders unnoticed, like the seemingly-dead coals of a chilled fire; however, when provoked, the flames lash out with a blazing ferocity. Some of the characters in the film don’t know this, though, and the end-result is terrifying – for both the characters, and the audience!
Which brings me to my next point:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo‘s story, while amazing, is not for everyone. It is very much an R-rated movie. Sex, nudity, language, and violence are very much present in this film, and there is a rather intense rape scene as well. So, if you are of the faint-of-heart, or if you refuse to watch movies for the aforementioned reasons, then The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not for you. However, if you are still interested, I will say that the actors handled the violence and the intensity of their scenes extremely well.
Graphic scenes aside, the story is really what blew me away in this film. Right from the start, the audience is presented with information that is significant to the plot, and not once does the movie slow down or baby its viewers. This is not Inception. This is a complex and intricately spun story that takes the lives of two seemingly unrelated characters, and intimately weaves them together. And, for me, it felt as if I was watching a novel, for the attention to detail in this movie is insane; the more the story evolved, the more I found myself pouring over the pictures and documents with Mikael and Lisbeth, picking up on tiny hints and subtle cues, trying to piece together the puzzle just as they were. Never have I been so engaged with a movie’s story or its characters. I find myself craving to watch it again, just so I can catch what I missed the first time around.
That is no small thing, and I really must commend director David Fincher here for the incredible cinematography of this film. With his camera angles, he visually breathes life into the story, highlighting and focusing on characters and images at just the right moments, for just the right amount of time. Never is there an awkward angle, an awkward pose; it felt incredibly organic, and, like I said, it felt as if I were watching a novel. That rarely happens for me, and it is the best thing that could possibly happen, so, again, kudos to Fincher and the writers for their excellent story-telling/showing chops.
And perfectly accentuating this gripping story is the music! Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who won an Oscar last year for their composition for The Social Network) team up with Fincher (who directed The Social Network) again to deliver the perfect soundtrack for this film.
Now, by soundtrack, I don’t mean a John Williams or Hans Zimmer musical score. The closest comparison I could think of is the music of the Bourne movies (which are also terrific thrillers), but even that music isn’t the same. The music in this movie is much more… cerebral. It blends perfectly with the scenes and the story, seeping down to the roots of the plot, revealing and amplifying the emotional currents that flow through and from the characters, thus greatly affecting the audience’s perception of the film.
It’s haunting, exciting, chilling, enticing, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a perfect marriage between a film and its music. It’s almost constantly reeling in the background, permeating almost every scene – save for when silence is more powerful – and never is it overdone. It was also quite the pleasant surprise for me, considering I thought it was going to be a rock-heavy soundtrack, judging from the trailer. And while the song from the trailer is in the movie, it’s only in the opening sequence, which was akin to a James Bond opener (but much, much cooler).
To put it in simple terms, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is nothing short of amazing. It’s an incredible work of art, one that is equally mesmerizing and shocking, and I honestly cannot fault it for anything. Some reviewers have said that certain scenes (the rape scene in particular) are too drawn-out and overly-intense, and that they were not necessary or vital to the overall story; and while I can see their point, I disagree. Sure, I might not have agreed with some of the content from a moral point of view, and some of it was offensive, but I cannot fault a movie for daring to show what happens in reality all the time. It was honest, it was harsh, but it was real, and I think that’s what counts.
If you can still say you want to see it after reading this review, after knowing what to expect, then I now give you the highest of recommendations to go see this film. You will not be disappointed. Disturbed? Probably a bit. Maybe a lot.
But it will blow your damn mind.