Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
By the time David Fincher adopted the use of a digital camera vs. the tradition film camera, he had already created a visual style that was uniquely haunting and beautiful. This visual style has only been accentuated in his work by the advantages that digital has over film as a medium. As a result of this, David Fincher’s version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo carries a beautifully, dark, nihilistic style that only Fincher could bring out of the story. Everything from Daniel Craig’s surprising departure from his polished, macho 007, and Rooney Mara’s scary, angry, introverted Lisbeth Salander to the sound track created by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross make this movie and prime example of what Fincher can do as a director.
Based on a novel of the same name written by Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, tells the story of Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a journalist for Millennium magazine, who is hired by Henrik Vanger to find his missing grand daughter, Harriet, after she went missing 40 years earlier. While Mikael is able to discover new clues, he realizes he needs an assistant to help with the research, which is why he hires Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Lisbeth is recommended to him by Henrik Vanger because she is the one who compiled the research on Mikael for Henrik. Together the two aim to solved a 40 year old murder mystery, while also navigating the weird Vanger family on their remote island.
As the titular, girl with the dragon tattoo, Rooney Mara is the real surprise in the film. Her previous film with Fincher, The Social Network, had her playing a quiet, conservative, “good girl,” type. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has Mara looking like she walked out of a Marilyn Manson convention (for lack of a better analogy). To prepare for the role, Mara actually put in all of the piercings Lisbeth has and dyed her hair black as well as received the interesting haircut she sports throughout the film. It’s not a very subtle transformation. A lot of her emotions come through her eyes, which is even more impressive since her eyebrows are blonde and virtually nonexistent. Throughout the film, there are very few things explicitly said about Lisbeth’s past or why she has a violent history with the government or why she has a legal guardian even as an adult. Her character is meant to be mysterious, and yet her outward appearance reflects all of the pent up anger she has accumulated throughout the years of having such a rough life. She is a deeply troubled individual and all of Mara’s actions reflect this. Just like most victims of abuse, she makes very little eye contact and she’s skittish. Her sentences are short and to the point, as if to avoid all contact, and not ruffle any feathers. She does what she can to get by. Mara manages to relay all of these little details through her performance. As the film progresses and her relationship with Mikael grows closer, her walls are slowly torn down. Its clear she thinks that he is someone she can care about and cares about her in return. As they work together, she is able to make more eye contact, and less skittish. By the time the film ends Lisbeth is still herself, but she has found something she barely had before, a friend.
While Mara’s transformation to Lisbeth Salander is certainly drastic, Daniel Craig also made a few changes to play Mikael Blomkvist. Craig no longer had the athletic, clean-shaven look of James Bond, but rather the intellectual, slightly heftier, look of a journalist. Like Lisbeth, Craig’s Mikael also appears to be a quiet individual. He’s an intelligent man which is obviously portrayed by the glasses his character wears, and the way he lets them hang off of his head, but he is also able to act out his thoughts during scenes that require him to do so. Seeing this film after his turn as James Bond reminded me what a capable actor Daniel Craig is, and I hope we can see him in some more dramatic roles going forward.
Fincher’s decision to use digital has only added to his visual style. The colors are cold and grey, with very few instances of bright, vibrant colors. Even the old, flashback scenes of Harriet’s disappearance are purposely graded to look faded and sad. His choice to use digital also allows him to add digital stabilization to the footage which adds an eery “eye of god” feeling, especially during scenes where the camera is moving around. When Mikael approaches the Vanger mansion for the first time the camera unnaturally zooms toward the mansion from the front of the car, which further adds to the mystery and despair of the situation. The content of the story lends itself to Fincher’s unique, nihilistic style. The muted colors and greys, reflect the cold Swedish environment. Every scene is beautifully composed, and the use of stabilization gives it a feeling like an outside observer watching something he shouldn’t. Its cold and distant, and at the same time deeply personal, like an old photograph.
It’s been so long since I’ve seen the Swedish version of the film, which makes it difficult to compare the two. The only thing I vaguely remember is that the Swedish version ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, whereas Fincher’s version gives the film a definite ending. It’s sad, but absolute. It allows room for sequels, while also tying up the story so that it stands on its own. That being said, at this point I do not want to see a sequel to this film. It’s beautiful on its own. As I dive into studying more of Fincher’s films, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, has become a very strong contender for one of my favorites. It’s probably the most violent of Fincher’s films, but at the same time it appears to have more to say about the world we live in. Fincher has a reoccurring theme in his films that all people are terrible and evil to varying degrees. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, we see terrible people doing terrible things in private, but they are eventually brought to light. Just like the tag line for the film says, “What is hidden in the snow, comes forth in the thaw.”