When author Stieg Larsson was fifteen years old, he witnessed the gang rape of a young girl. He never forgave himself for not helping the girl, whose name was Lisbeth.
A guilt-ridden Larsson would ask Lisbeth for forgiveness – ashamed that he hadn’t intervened – but she refused.
Lisbeth’s traumatizing experience would go on to inspire the theme of sexual violence against women in Larsson’s award-winning book, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (original title in Swedish: Män som hatar kvinnor – “Men Who Hate Women”).
The author named the tattooed heroine of his novel after the young girl as a way of apologizing for his own cravenness.
In 2009, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was adapted as a Swedish Language film, directed by Niels Arden Oplev and starring Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth. As part of the “Millennium” Trilogy, the successful adaptation was quickly followed by “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.”
On December 21st, an English language adaptation of Larsson’s novel, written by Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List,” “Moneyball”) and directed by David Fincher (“Se7en,” “The Social Network), hits theaters. For those of you who missed the previous film adaptation or never read Larsson’s book, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” tells the story of sixteen-year old Harriet Vanger, who disappeared on September 29th 1966. Forty years later journalist Mikael Blomqvist (Daniel Craig) receives an unusual assignment. He is contacted by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), an industrialist in the midst of writing his memoirs.
Vanger’s autobiography is just a cover for the real assignment: to find out what really happened to Henrik’s niece Harriet. In an attempt to solve the cryptic missing persons case, Mikael seeks out help from tattooed computer hacker and private investigator Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara).
Fincher’s slick and glossy style explores the darkest corners of the human experience, pulling back the curtain to reveal a world that is morose, sinister and gorgeous. From “Se7en” to “Fight Club” to “Zodiac” to “Dragon Tattoo,” Fincher’s obsession with detail gives his films a richness lacking in most American cinema.
His frequent collaborators cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth (“Fight Club,”), composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (“The Social Network”), editor Angus Wall and sound designer Ren Klyce also help create the mood and atmosphere cinephiles have come to define as “Fincheresque.” The use of darkness and silhouette, the elegance of minimal lighting, the rich color palettes composed of inky blacks, vibrant neon reds and abysmal murky grays — all the signatures are present and accounted for.
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a mesmerizing work of art by a filmmaker who has mastered his craft – a film refined and dripping with gorgeous intensity.
Viewing the film’s opening credits, a rhythmic collage of disturbing imagery set to a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” by Trent Reznor and Karen O. of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, is an introduction to the 158-minute Master’s Seminar in atmospheric storytelling.
Rooney Mara (“The Social Network”) is fearless as Lisbeth Salander, a pale, anorexic techno-punk covered in piercings and tattoos. She is damaged – introverted, anti-social – a rape victim who refuses to be victimized.
Mara deserves an Academy Award for her bold portrayal of Lisbeth – a character that embodies the elegant, dark duality of Natalie Portman’s Nina Sayers in “Black Swan” and Heath Ledger’s capacity for chaos as the Joker in “The Dark Knight.”
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a haunting piece of cinema that will no doubt entertain and astonish mainstream audiences this Christmas. Larsson’s series of books have become a worldwide phenomena and while the Swedish film adaptations have their fans, Fincher’s definitive version will bring Larsson’s characters to a whole new audience.
Simply one of the year’s best films, I can’t wait to see “Dragon Tattoo” again in theaters – I wish I could have the opening credits beamed directly into my brain on an infinite loop.
Mini-Rant: David Fincher was nominated for Best Director last year for “The Social Network,” coming up short to Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech” – though anyone with half a brain will tell you that Fincher was the Best Director of the Best Picture last year.
Being as the Academy seems content with holding the art of filmmaking back 50 years by rewarding generic, forgettable period pieces with Best Picture statues, it’s hard to say if “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” will be Fincher’s first Best Director Oscar. Not only will he have to contend with the likes of Spielberg, Scorsese and Malick, but Phyllida Lloyd’s “The Iron lady” is the perfect kind of British Biopic Oscar-bait that could keep inventive, daring filmmaking off the stage and in the seats for another year.
Look out for Clint’s full, in-depth review later on!