Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Last month’s widely hailed Girl with the Dragon Tattoo can easily sit on a shelf with director David Fincher’s finest works – Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, The Game, among others. What it can’t do quite as well is stand out amongst those films. Indeed, while Tattoo is a solid, well-made thriller, I can’t help but feel that Fincher could’ve put out something even better.

The film’s plot is appropriately engrossing – based on the Swedish novel by Stieg Larsson, Tattoo chronicles a story of journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), who lost his life savings in a libel suit, and Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a removed, unorthodox young woman with a knack for computers and surveillance. A wealthy businessman (Christopher Plummer) hires Mikael to re-open and investigate a decades-old case involving the disappearance and suspected murder of his daughter. He believes that one of his family members, many of them with shady pasts, is to blame. Mikael enlists Lisbeth’s help, and together they search for clues leading to the true culpret.

Tattoo is a methodical detective story, exploring themes of sexual deviance and familial betrayal. Its dark, hypnotic style works to draw the audience into the grittiest of places. Not unlike the bulk of Fincher’s filmography, moody lighting and immersive, compelling atmosphere are in no short supply.

A tight, cliche-devoid script is also a welcome merit. Oscar winner Steven Zaillian utilizes the source material’s full potential in this adaptation, featuring some outstanding, highly memorable dialogue. Also commendable is the way the film doesn’t talk down to the audience – not telling, but showing us why these characters are the way they are. Lesser scripts would’ve almost certainly written in tripe exchanges about say, how “misunderstood” and “unloved” Lisbeth is. Rather, this film gives us an uncompromising, in-depth look at both Mikael and Lisbeth long before the plot is set in motion, and is all the better for it. On the whole, there’s a lot going on under the hood in Tattoo, and Fincher does well to honor the script’s approach.

Really, Tattoo‘s primary shortcoming isn’t in what it does, but what it doesn’t do. Fincher’s direction has become much more straightforward in recent years, lacking much of the bold, pulpy, clever eccentricities of Se7en and Fight Club. Those films showcase a brand the director could call his own, and which Fincher himself seemed to be having fun with. These days, however, he’s restrained himself considerably, perhaps in the wake of awards recognition on overwrought films like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I miss that edgy, cult favorite director with an unapologetically flamboyant flavor, believing in his films when studios and box office reciepts said otherwise.

Fincher also seems to be having a problem with length in his recent works. While the film’s two-hour-forty-minute runtime doesn’t drag on and is actually edited tightly enough to keep the film running at a good, quick pace, clearly Fincher filmed far more material than necessary and it shows in the final edit. The director reportedly wanted a three-hour long cut from the studio, with the two parties reaching a compromise in the film’s final length. As a result, quite a few scenes end abruptly on occasion, noticably cutting off early and feeling a bit less natural than what was indended.

There is simply no reason Fincher couldn’t have better condensed this material before shooting began. It’s not hard to imagine ways to shorten and shoot a more compact, palatable amount of footage for this material, especially for the film’s overlong post-climax resolution, instead of letting such a massive amount of footage end up on the cutting room floor and resulting in a more disjointed film.

As Fincher standards go, the score is also a bit lacking. Carrying Atticus Ross and NIN’s Trent Reznor over from their Oscar-winning turn in Fincher’s The Social Network, Tattoo‘s score is a mixed bag, ranging from wholly unfitting to bizarrely appropriate. A bit more consistancy in tone would’ve been welcome.

Despite its shortcomings, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is solid enough to warrant recommendation. It’s another worthy entry from director David Fincher thanks to an amazing script and sound source material.

7/10

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