Sony // 2011 // 158 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // March 26th, 2012
"What is hidden in snow, comes forth in the thaw."
(FYI, this statement has absolutely nothing to do with the film.)
Much has been made of David Fincher and Steve Zaillian's adaptation of Stieg Larsson's posthumously released novel (Men Who Hate Women). The 2009 Swedish film of the same name is spoken in both hushed reverent tones and loud boisterous proclamations as one of cinema's most compelling achievements. So why remake it? For the same reason there have been umpteen million productions of any given Shakespeare tale: the artists behind them have something to say.
Journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig, Quantum of Solace) just got his dick caught in the wringer. Attempting to take down smarmy billionaire industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerström (Ulf Friberg, Evil) using less than reliable sources, he is sued for libel and loses. Publicly disgraced and financially ruined, Blomkvist takes an unusual meeting with Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer, The Sound of Music), respected businessman and retired CEO of Vanger Industries. But this isn't a business meeting in the traditional sense. Henrik wants to hire Blomkvist to investigate the unsolved murder of his niece Harriet, who disappeared in the summer of 1965. Knowing full well this award-winning investigative reporter would have little interest in such a project, there's more at stake here than just a big fat paycheck. Henrik is offering irrefutable evidence that will destroy Wennerström's career. This shit just got real.
Relocating his life to the island of Hedeby, in the dead of Swedish winter, Blomkvist finds himself playing Sherlock Holmes to a family as eccentric and creepy as Dark Shadows' Collins clan, where everyone is a suspect. Pouring over four decades worth of Henrik's own personal research, police reports, and family history, Blomkvist quickly finds himself in over his head and requests an assistant, who arrives in the form of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara, The Social Network), the anarchistic social misfit and brilliant hacker responsible for vetting Blomkvist for this very job; and whose own shocking personal backstory has been revealed to us in parallel.
As their journeys dovetail, the charged dynamic between Blomkvist and Salander pays off in spades; peeling away years of Vanger family history to reveal a truth far more disturbing than anyone ever expected. And just when it appears everything has been figured out, we're reminded our protagonists still have Wennerström to contend with.
The critical expectation in reviewing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is to compare and contrast Fincher's vision with that of Niels Arden Oplev, Steve Zallian's script with that of Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg, and the performances of Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara with those of Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace. I'm not going to do that. You must forgive the moments where I do inadvertently stray into that territory to illustrate a particular point, but this adaptation of Men Who Hate Women has earned our full attention.
I didn't reach this mindset quickly or easily. Having first experienced The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo while suffering from pneumonia and being overwhelmingly consumed by the visceral experience it turned out to be, I went into this film with trepidation. Investing heavily in marketing anti-Holiday cinema, drenched in Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' guttural score, one got the feeling Sony was trying a bit too hard to one-up their Swedish predecessor. My first time through Fincher's film left me perplexed, my brain working overtime analyzing the myriad of differences and which team did it better. This wasn't a screening, it was a competition. The second time, I viewed it through Fincher's commentary, which had me hanging on every word. David comes across as an odd duck in interviews clips -- much like Tim Burton does when talking about his films -- but in the solitude of a screening room with nothing but the film and a microphone, Fincher lays everything bare. I cannot adequately express how much this information profoundly impacted my third viewing of the film. I can now say with great confidence that there is no need to choose one adaptation of Larsson over the other. Both films bring completely different energies and rewards to the viewer and are equally respected for doing so.
Directors like Fincher, David Lynch, and the aforementioned Tim Burton have particular traits that brand each of their films. David learned his trade working for George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Madonna, and Michael Jackson. The intense reaction one gets from watching films like Se7en, Fight Club, and Panic Room are akin to tasering an exposed nerve. And though his style has evolved through less subversive narratives like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network, he still knows how to push the buttons of an audience at just the right time. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the best of Fincher old and new. At 158 minutes, the film maintains a brilliant pace, slowing just enough to let us absorb the exposition, then coldcocking us with steel pipe as we round a blind corner. What's more, everything takes place in a hyper-reality, where the darkness of humanity is awash in a schema of icy blues and noirish blacks, while the fondness of memory is bathed in ripe oranges and shimmering golds. Masterfully traversing this landscape, we're strapped to the hood of Fincher's car with no escape; he controls the path, the speed, and the environment. And when the ride is over, we catch our breath only for a moment before wanting to take the ride again.
But this is not a one-man success story. Screenwriter Steve Zaillian has reconfigured Larsson, stripping down Blomkvist and Salander to their bare essentials and placing them on a new playing field, which enables different choices to be made. Daniel Craig's Blomkvist is more professorial, in a scattered heady way, playing against any expectation of Bondian instinct or impulse. He stumbles through much of the film questioning why he's even there, only to be lured in by a mystery that's way over his head. Rooney Mara's Lisbeth is more complex, wearing her history like a well-worn jacket and reacting to societal norms as a rabid injured animal. There is a brokenness about her that only serves to enhance this journey. Christopher Plummer's Henrik is less involved in the narrative, though no less powerful a presence. But the real revelation here is Stellan Skarsgård, whose Martin Vanger (current CEO and patriarchal heir) is so beautifully constructed and brilliantly performed that he too was deserving of award recognition.
To analyze the experience or reveal more narrative detail would be doing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo an injustice. This film deserves to be viewed in a dark, quiet room, undistracted by family, friends, or technology. Just know going in there are moments of base humanity which will unnerve you, and allow yourself the right to full immersion.
Presented in stunning 2.40:1/1080p high definition widescreen, the stylized presentation is exactly how Fincher intended. This may not be reference material for technophiles, but every environmental and human flaw is exposed with tremendous depth (both actual and perceived), and you cannot argue with the results. Similarly, the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track offers up a dynamic sound field, embedding us in this richly disturbing world. Every utterance from dialogue to ambiance is precisely layered to evoke interest and emotion. Credit the home video production team for their efforts in recreating the theatrical experience.
Now to the best part of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Blu-ray)...the bonus features. There haven't been many "event releases" in recent years, but Sony has done this one justice. My only concern is that the navigation is quite manually intensive. Laid out as if we are Lisbeth paging through the Vanger Industries documentation archives, we are required to activate each and every feature individually. The experience would have been better served with a "Play All" option, but I certainly cannot argue with the astounding level of production detail we've been given access too.
* Commentary -- Eluded to earlier, this is an experience unto itself and demands your attention. (The only extra available on Disc One, and the only extra at all on the DVD copy.)
* Men who Hate Women (7 min) -- Cast and crew talk about the novel, the hesitancy of filming in Sweden where the original is considered a national treasure, and the approach used in creating this adaptation.
* Casting Salander (16 min) -- Fincher, Rooney Mara, and costume designer Trish Summerville discuss the intense casting process and how it wound up benefitting the character and the film.
* Different in Every Way (6 min) -- A detailed examination of Lisbeth from book to film.
* The Look of Salander (14 min) -- A look inside the transformative process Rooney underwent to become Lisbeth.
* Mara / Fincher (4 min) -- A mutual admiration piece.
* Irene Nesser (6 min) -- The one aspect of shooting Rooney tested in every way.
* Salander Test Footage (3 min) -- DV footage shot on and around the LA subway to capture the essence of Lisbeth.
* Casting Blomkvist (7 min) -- The first role cast, this piece focuses more on Daniel's approach to the character and his world.
* Daniel Craig on Film Acting (3 min) -- "How I work" by Daniel Craig.
* Dressing Blomkvist (3 min) -- Distinguishing Daniel from that other famous character he plays.
* Investigation -- Interactive photo gallery of early production stills.
* Stellan Skarsgård on Acting (3 min) -- Inside Stellan's approach to this unique role.
* Psychopathy (6 min) -- How to be an effective sociopath.
* Bondage (5 min) -- You need to see the film before I'll talk about this one.
* Torture (4 min) -- Same here.
* Wrapped in Plastic (5 min) -- Keep moving. Nothing to see here.
* Set Design -- Another interactive photo gallery of locations.
On Location: Sweden
* Stockholm Syndrome (18 min) -- An in-depth exploration of the Sweden shoot.
* Stockholm's Tunnelbana (6 min) -- Shooting Lisbeth in the subway.
* Fuck These People (6 min) -- How one scene can go wrong and still be rescued.
* The End (12 min) -- The emotional intensity and relief of the production's final scene.
* Picture Wrap (7 min) -- Shooting that final scene.
On Location: Hollywood
* Casting Armansky (5 min) -- E.R.'s Goran Visnjic on his supporting role.
* Armansky Audition (7 min) -- Fincher helps Visnjic understand the character.
* Thinking Evil Shit (5 min) -- Fincher does what Fincher does best.
* Rape / Revenge (17 min) -- Capturing one of the film's most physical and emotional scenes.
* Int. Blomkvist's Cottage (6 min) -- Watching Fincher work.
* Int. Martin's House (8 min) -- More watching Fincher work.
* Int. Salander's Apt (3 min) -- Still watching Fincher work.
* In the Cutting Room (14 min) -- A look inside Fincher's editing process.
* ADR (7 min) -- Looping dialogue, a necessary evil which is harder than it looks.
* Main Titles (3 min) -- Blur Studio's work on the film's intense (some might say Bondian) title sequence.
* Visual Effects Montage (8 min) -- It's the little things most people don't notice that make the difference.
* Hard Copy (9 min) -- Viral video created to generate interest in the film. As if it needed more.
* TV Spots (4 min) -- Seven commercials.
* Trailers -- Four trailers.
* Metal One Sheet (4 min) -- Creating the metallic poster art.
* Easter Eggs -- After nearly five hours of extras, I didn't have the energy to track them down.
* DVD copy -- A bit controversial, as it was made to look like one of Lisbeth's DVD-Rs. But the marketing gimmick backfired, as consumers thought they had been ripped off. Personally, I thought it was a studio placeholder disc for final product not yet available.
* Digital copy -- Are you registered with Ultraviolet yet? You'll need to be to utilize it.
This is art as God intended. Love it or hate it, our ability to create and experience stories like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of life's great benefits. Excuse yourself from mindless television and internet surfing for one night and take advantage of it. You won't regret the choice. And when the film is done, immediately put in the Swedish version and experience the story in an entirely different way.
Inte skyldig (Not required).
Review content copyright © 2012 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, Descriptive)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 158 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* TV Spots
* Photo Galleries
* Easter Eggs
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy
* Official Site