Monday, April 9, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

On first glance, the American film adaption of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo appears an ideal vehicle for director David Fincher. Over a two-decade career, Fincher has explored and re-explored many of the ingredients found in Larson’s novel. Centering on a unique pairing of protagonists who together investigate the mystery of an unsolved murder committed 40 years prior, the story also proffers other Fincher staples, such as a sociopathic villain and long scenes of intense research and investigation. The film naturally latches on to these elements and spins them into richly textured inquiry into the retrospective reconstruction of the past. Fincher has navigated these waters before, but never as gracefully. He uses the Agatha Christie-esque plot as a foundation for an experiment in mood and atmosphere, proving that he is miles ahead of his contemporaries in terms of film craft. In his execution, Fincher effectively emulates Hitchcock, squeezing tension and dread from a simple progression of elegantly crafted compositions.

Larsson’s compelling groundwork sees Daniel Craig’s everyman journalist driving the story at the start, while the victimized, off-putting character of Lisbeth Salander assumes a more passive role. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is involving purely on the level of aesthetics, but Fincher’s visualization of Lisbeth’s journey from passive victim to active protagonist is the film’s most significant achievement. Over the two and a half hour run time, Fincher and Rooney Mara craft a full-bodied portrayal of feminine sexualization and strength that defies stereotype and resists broad representation.

Despite earning mostly positive reviews, a prevailing notion that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo amounts to little more than a stylistic exercise has begun to crystallize in the wake of its release. Even some of its adamant defenders have noted that the film fails to truly distinguish itself from other Fincher works. (That it is also the second film adaptation of a recently published novel only compounds this emerging legacy.) Indeed, Fincher’s Girl fits within an established framework. But look closer and there is a more nuanced movie about vision, technology, and embodiment than its glossy surface and derivative genre trappings would lead to believe. (David Fincher, 2011) ***½

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