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Dragon Tattoo’ Leaves Its Mark

Maija Gustin | Thursday, January 19, 2012

David Fincher is a filmmaker of many hats: a masterful storyteller, a visionary director, a weaver of thrilling suspense and an utter perfectionist behind the camera and in the editing bay.

He wields all of these titles adeptly in every film he makes, but his most profound ability—and the one that separates him most from his peers—is his ability to construct and capture an atmosphere or an ambience or whatever you want to call that prevailing mood that enwraps Fincher movies.

“Seven” and “Zodiac” stand out for a tone that permeates every element of the film, while “Fight Club” reveals the gritty world of chaos so graciously given by Chuck Palahniuk’s book.

Even in “The Social Network,” where the only atmospheric elements dictated by the plot are Harvard society and Mark Zuckerberg’s computer-prowess, Fincher’s total tone made the film not just a story, but a world unto itself.

In the case of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” the source material is all about tone. Stieg Larsson’s Swedish blockbuster story isn’t popular around the world just because people can’t seem to get enough of Lisbeth Salander.

Rather, the very world that his novels capture and the way that they capture it sucks the reader in and provides a lens to understand the less-than-noble characters that populate the story.

Fincher’s challenge with “Dragon Tattoo” was not just adapting the novel to the big screen, but capturing that very tone that makes the novel so suspenseful, so engrossing and so good.

Against powerful odds, Fincher did it again.

His “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is more than just a by-the-book adaptation. It is, in many ways, a poem entirely reflective of its source material, capturing the nuances of Larsson’s language in a way most films simply cannot.

What makes the movie exceptional is the way that this close attention to the fine details of ambience balances almost perfectly with an excellent script and marvelous performances from the actors.

Specifically, Rooney Mara as the hard-shelled, damaged and waifish Lisbeth Salander drives the movie every bit as effectively as the unconventional character does in the novels.

While the novel and the film center more narratively on Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and his quest to solve a decades-old murder, Salander is the heart of the story. Mara owns the role, presenting a Salander deeply rooted in the novels’ character but also in her own.

There isn’t a bad actor in the house, but don’t be surprised when Mara steals the film even from James Bond himself.

“Dragon Tattoo” is a dark but compelling, deeply distressing story. It is rife with murder, violence, misogyny and some generally detestable characters —even the “heroes” sometimes fly far outside the boundaries of moral excellence.

Fincher’s film is every bit as dark as the novels, as the director handles and presents this sinister material in the same way Larsson does. By exposing and exaggerating very real flaws within civilized society with a critical tone, he points out just how messed up humanity can be.

There are scenes of sheer brutality that are difficult to watch, but they pull the viewer in with a sense of urgency to expose a problem.

It is common knowledge now that the film and the novel feature particularly vicious scenes of violence against Lisbeth, but Fincher presents them with a coldness that ignores all sensationalism, instead exploring the depths of human ugliness.

“Dragon Tattoo” is not for the faint of heart, but it is a must see for anyone ready to brave rough images for a shockingly effective translation of this worldwide blockbuster sensation. Mara seems to be the talk of the town when it comes to this film, and rightfully so. “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is worth seeing for her performance alone.

For fans of the novel or Fincher’s American version, also check out the Swedish adaptations of the trilogy, which are excellent even for the subtitle-phobic.