Film review: 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' more smoke than fire

January 03, 2012|By BOB GARVER | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig star in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," in theaters now.
Associated Press

Going into "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," I felt confident that the film was going to play a major role in this year's Best Picture Oscar race.

It's directed by David Fincher hot off "The Social Network" (and reuniting him with actress Rooney Mara and composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross among others), it opened at the height of awards season, and it's based on a bestselling crime thriller by the late Stieg Larsson that I hadn't read, but I knew was very popular.

Had I known the exact nature of the subject matter in the book and now the film, I never would have declared it an Oscar frontrunner.  

Daniel Craig stars as Mikael Blomkvist, a disgraced investigative journalist. He's hired by mysterious millionaire Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to investigate the decades-old "murder" of his niece at the hands of someone in his own family.

Blomkvist begins questioning family members, who mainly tell stories of how much they hate the other family members. The only likeable member is Henrik's nephew Martin (Stellan Skarsgard), so you know he has to be hiding something. Blomkvist decides that he needs someone to assist him and he chooses the person who was hired by Henrik to investigate him to make sure he was right for the investigation. Her name is Lisbeth Salander (Mara) and she is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Lisbeth is supposed to be a terribly interesting character, and to listen to a description she is indeed interesting. She's tricked out her face and body with piercings and accessories, she's a brilliant hacker and detective who puts Blomkvist to shame, she turns psychotically violent at a moment's notice, and she tosses aside all sorts of social and sexual boundaries.

And yet for some reason, the character is portrayed as wooden, wooden, wooden. Her dialogue is always either a regurgitation of information or bored bragging about how effortlessly she's done something complex and intricate. I know that the explanation is that she's been through a lot in her life and she's emotionally repressed, but she's like a robot. A kinky robot that perverts can't wait for scientists to invent, but a robot nonetheless.  

The film is heavy on violent and sexual content, and it's often both at once. There is a rape scene, but it's an R-rated rape scene as opposed to an NC-17. It's the kind of scene where you're very aware that the film is trying to hide just enough to avoid further censorship. It has a dishonest feel to it.

It is followed by a much more gratifying revenge scene against the rapist. Elsewhere there is a detailed description of a rape and murder spree. The crimes are described with such an array of disgusting details that Stieg Larsson must have gone through quite the writing exercise to come up with it all. The film's climax is a torture scene where the villain goes on an increasingly crazy monologue about his shocking exploits. Daniel Craig may not be James Bond in this movie, but he still has to endure boasting from an overconfident villain. The scene goes on so long that it starts to seem silly.

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is a grisly movie that feels unrewarding because of its vileness. It works well on many artistic levels, it's well shot and edited and there's an awesome title sequence on par with the best James Bond films.

I wouldn't even call it a bad movie, just one that I have no desire to revisit. I feel dirty having seen it, but I feel dirtier that millions of people are going to see the movie and read the book without knowing what they're in for.  Prepare to be disturbed.  

Two and a Half Stars out of Five

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is rated R for brutal content including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language.  Its running time is 158 minutes.  

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