A girl, a gun, and a motorcycle. It's a classic list of ingredients for a certain type of film. David Fincher's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is not that type of film, although he's used all of those things in his latest confectionery, sprinkled to taste. No, this "Dragon Tattoo" (following a mere two years behind a globally well-received Swedish adaptation of the late Stieg Larsson's inescapable best seller) comes to us as a lofty, end-of-year big-budget prestige picture for the new (old) millennium: The two hour and forty minute modern literary event made cinema. The fact that it's about a girl who rides a motorcycle and uses a gun is gravy for the box office.
The plot is actually intensely dull, (involving dry business dealings, and missing family members... the stuff of procedural weekly television) with the title character being the only true point of interest in the entire story. Rooney Mara plays the infamous Lisbeth Salander, the punked-out bi-sexual techie goth investigator of the title. Salander's exploits, and Fincher's visual handling of them is what keeps us watching this otherwise unwieldy over-conscious adaptation. Mara is very good in the role, and I'm curious to see her continue with the character in future installments. However, despite the fact that the local film critics' organization I belong to recently named her Best Actress of 2011, she doesn't quite make my own top five in that category. (Although Meryl Streep did not pierce her nipple for "The Iron Lady", which Mara presumably did in fact do for this part. I suppose in some circles, that's precisely the level of commitment that nets awards.)
The film is being marketed with an overcooked angle of forced edginess, something that seems to come with each David Fincher project, in varying degrees. With it's jagged fonts, stark coloring, slam-cut trailers and of course that topless teaser poster, TGWTDT has pushed the Fincher confrontational factor up several notches from where it's been (he's typically shied away from nudity, for example) to where people think it's been. It's winkingly branded as "the feel-bad movie of Christmas", although in reality, there are at least two feel-worse movies currently competing with it. TGWTDT wants so badly to be cool, and with it's show stopping opening titles - a Bond-esque credits sequence that puts Bond credits sequences to shame - it is cool... if only for a brief glimmering adrenalized moment. The rest of the film proceeds to fail horribly in living up to it.
Fincher has been compared favorably to Kubrick due to his tenacity in shooting (99+ takes of any given shot is his standard), his always cutting-edge technical prowess, and his intriguing choices of source material. Kubrick films were never well received from the outset, usually immediately labeled as dull misfires, or worse. But then, ten years on, the world always came around, and each film was eventually lauded as a masterpiece. Fincher is admittedly no Stanley Kubrick, but nevertheless, no Fincher film should be missed in the theater, if only for his undisputed cinematic gravitas.
Although I want to shrug off Fincher's TGWTDT as an unsuccessful attempt at blending the literary prestige film with confrontational exploitation, I can't quite bring myself to do that. Larsson's story, with its procedural bent and edgy content, is, in theory, a solid choice for the director. At moments, all cylinders are definitely firing. Like "Zodiac", another long-winded Fincher procedural that I was initially down on, this one may warrant a second look once the dust settles. But unlike "Zodiac", I'll be shocked if this film finds acclaim among the cinema intelligentsia. Stripped of all it's studio generated rev and punch, the American "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is a long ride downhill on a really cool motorcycle. Just mind the piercings, it's a bumpy ride.
- Jim Tudor
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