Cold and chilly like its Swedish setting, David Fincher’s “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” opens with an opening-credit sequence for the ages. Figures rise, fall and converge, but covered in tattoo ink and with Karen O’s ambient “Immigrant Song” remake blasting in the background. It promises a wild time to be had — and judging from the marketing materials, you’d think “Dragon Tattoo” would be one of the more subversive studio-backed films in years.
Not the case.
“The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” is a film bearing the David Fincher stamp of technical mastery, with Jeff Cronenweth’s bleak cinematography as excellent as usual, Angus Hall and Kirk Baxter in the cutting room, and the Reznor/Ross duo providing a strong ambient score once again.
Their work is all up to par compared to their work last year — 2010’s best film “The Social Network”, but what makes it so much less effective this time around is the lack of an emotional center. “Dragon Tattoo” is a film whose every frame was clearly labored over and given the utmost of attention, but it came at the expense of a meaningful plot. It’s all a beautifully crafted toy that, when wound up, does almost nothing.
It’s certainly not for lack of effort on the actors’ part. In fact, the principal leads, Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, both deliver absolutely superb work here. Craig, who’s been on something of a poor streak lately, gives a performance of both fierce intellect and icy cool. He is Mikael Blomkvist, a magazine publisher whose reporting on a corporate head just cost him his life savings. He is contacted by Henrik Vanger, a wealthy old man whose beloved niece’s disappearance has haunted him for 30 years.
Vanger wants Blomkvist to give all the evidence another look and see if there are any other angles to the story he might have missed. This is where Mara enters the picture, as Lisbeth Salander.
Much has been made of Salander’s character, both on-screen and in the best-selling novels from which the film is based. She’s an oddly pierced, bisexual prodigy whose main talent is kicking ass and hacking computers. Mara is an absolute force to be reckoned with in the role — just the right amounts of sex appeal, dramatic intensity, and hardened exterior. If Mara is on the screen, “Tattoo” approaches the heights it could have hit.
The actual murder mystery aspect of the film does work rather well, it’s just that there’s far too much of the thing. Of “Dragon Tattoo”s 160-minute run-time, at least 100 minutes are devoted to the mystery which, while important, are not the real story of the film. What “Dragon Tattoo” is really about is the odd connection that Blomkvist and Salander develop, and while solidly realized I think the filmmakers mistakenly decided to stave off most of that dynamic for possible sequels (there are after all, two more books in the series to be adapted)
Had screenwriter Steve Zaillian (whose past work includes “Moneyball” and “Schindler’s List”) paid as much attention to character development as procedural detail, it could have been a masterpiece. “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” is a perfectly solid murder mystery, which i heartbreaking considering it could have been solidly perfect. David Fincher’s obsessive attention to detail, has, for the first time, left his end product feeling a little empty. B-