Thursday Night Movie Club
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
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Release Date: 20 December 2011

Director: David Fincher
Daniel Craig
Rooney Mara
Stellan Skarsgård
Steven Berkoff
Robin Wright
Yorick van Wageningen
Joely Richardson
Mikael Blomkvist
Lisbeth Salander
Henrik Vanger
Martin Vanger
Dirch Frode
Erika Berger
Nils Bjurman
Anita Vanger
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Director David Fincher has accomplished something author Stieg Larsson didn't in his novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, at least not right away. There is a sense of dread and foreboding from the opening sequence right up to the last frame.

Financial journalist/investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) has just suffered a major set-back in his career. His exposition of financier/businessman Hans-Erik Wennerstrom went horribly wrong leading to a conviction for libel. Blomkvist is a broken man, worn out by the recent trial in which he did not even try to present his side of the story.

Out of nowhere comes lawyer Dirch Frode (Berkoff), who represents Henrik Vanger (Plummer), one of the largest industrialists in Sweden. Vanger has a mystery that has continually plagued him for forty years. His sixteen year-old niece, Harriet, vanished during a family gathering. Adding to his misery, an unknown person has been sending him dried flowers in a frame, every year since the disappearance, on Harriet's birthday. The 82 year-old Vanger has spent his entire life searching for answers. He wants Blomkvist to look into the disappearance one last time before his death. Blomkvist has no intention of taking on the assignment until the pot is sweetened. Vanger has inside information on Wennerstrom that will certainly help Blomkvist resurrect his career and restore his credibility.

The story becomes more complicated as the list of possible suspects from the Vanger family grows. The major impediment to the mystery is the very nature of the mystery. Harriet disappeared so completely that there is zero actual evidence to follow up. Her body was never found. This is a very important piece of evidence in any murder investigation: the cause of death. There simply is nothing to go on.

Elsewhere in Stockholm, Lisbeth Salander (Mara) has run full-on into a road block in her life. Salander wants to live life on her terms. Unfortunately, she has been placed under governmental guardianship. Technically, she is old enough to manage her own affairs, but she continually runs afoul. Her new guardian, Nils Bjurman (Wageningen), is controlling. Bjurman wants to know everything about Salander's life, including her sexual relationships. Salander is going to have to do something about this particular problem.

Obviously, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a complicated story. Fincher removes much of the extraneous goings on and concentrates on the main elements of the story. An unsolvable mystery suddenly cracks wide open when Blomkvist discovers the one element that everyone has missed for forty years: the last known photograph taken of Harriet watching a parade. What is so shocking about a girl watching a parade? The fact that Harriet is not watching the parade.

Fincher does an excellent job with the pacing of this movie. While there are long stretches where seemingly nothing much happens, Fincher keeps up the interest in the characters and the unfolding mystery. The conclusion is especially interesting as Blomkvist and Salander solve the mystery simultaneously and from different directions. The cross-cutting and closeups lets the audience in on what each character is thinking while nothing is being said.

Daniel Craig is solid as investigative reporter Blomkvist, although he should have picked up a Swedish accent. As the only actor in the movie without one, he stands out from the crowd. Having a British accent makes him appropriately "foreign" for American audiences.

The real star of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the girl with the dragon tattoo: Rooney Mara. Lisbeth Salander is one of the most complex characters every committed to paper or the big screen. Mara brings Salander to life in all her pain, suffering, grief and triumphs. Many times as Lisbeth is increasingly bothered by her surroundings, Mara keeps this all hidden inside with only subtle looks with her eyes and even more subtle expressions and gestures. When she is finally alone, the banshee scream erupts like a volcano that can no longer contain the building pressure.

Salander has had a very rough upbringing. None of this is explained in the movie except that Lisbeth is under governmental guardianship. Now, she wants to be left alone to live her life on her terms. Unfortunately, life has a way of happening around her presenting situations that are beyond her control. This fuels her rage. She looks powerless. She is anything but.

When Salander seeks revenge, it is not an emotional response. Her revenge is carefully planned out to the tiniest detail. Lisbeth's eye makeup at first appears smudged, or hastily applied. To the contrary, the effect is that she has disguised herself behind a mask: A Mask of pure hatred. Her almost anal-retentive nature makes her a much stronger person psychologically than physically.

Salander's revenge has a very logical approach. She wants to gain her independence from her guardian and gain control of her finances. She brutally tortures him into complete and utter submission. But, there is no emotional relief. Guardian Bjurman may be three times Salander's size, but he turns white whenever she visits him later.

The music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is also subtle but continues the feeling of dread that permeates the film. It is haunting, electro-new age in style. There is nothing overpowering with the music but it is always hanging in the background like a ghost in the shadows.

Subtlety is the main component of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. On the surface, the movie has all of the elements needed to be exceedingly boring. It is nothing but! It is a long movie. Never dull. Always intriguing. Rooney Mara and the mystery of Harriet Vanger's disappearance keep the audience on their toes. There is nothing in this movie that foreshadows what comes next. When "it" happens, the result is shocking and often times horrific. Enjoy.