The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Sony Pictures, R)

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film dragon-tattoo_75There is what I feel is a glaring holdover from his debatably misogynistic days here that deeply hurts the overall power of the movie.

 

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Regardless your feelings on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo cultural phenomenon and ignoring whether or not you’ve read the books and/or seen the Swedish films already made from the material, look at two facts when going into the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: One, it was made by David Fincher; he doesn’t always make great films, but it would be completely ignorant at this point to say he’s not a great director. Besides, he’s made two of the best serial killer movies (a genre to which Dragon Tattoo belongs) in the past 20 years, 1995’s Se7en and 2007’s Zodiac. And two, good genre movies are often made from not-so-good genre books; see The Silence of the Lambs or Jurassic Park for examples.

The point is, it’s reasonable to have high hopes for Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, even if you haven’t otherwise been buying into the zeitgeist. Or at least I did—have high hopes, I mean. Coming from this angle, Dragon Tattoo is something of a disappointment; it isn’t bad, exactly, but it’s not as good as many will want it to be.

I’m not sure how fruitful any kind of plot synopsis would be here: Either you’re already well-versed with what goes on in the story or you don’t want to be. This is a serial killer movie, after all, and you’re best off knowing as little as possible going in. So to do a very quick, very surface gloss, the basic plot concerns a disgraced journalist named Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) who is hired to investigate a series of unsolved murders of women. Along the way, he teams up with the genius-level antisocial computer hacker (and breakout character of the series) Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara, best known up to now as the girl with whom Mark Zuckerberg is obsessed in Fincher’s The Social Network) to help get to the bottom of it.

The Millenium Trilogy (the name given to the Dragon Tattoo series, if you somehow don’t know that) has become notorious and weirdly much loved for its level of transgression, and the producers of the American version have done their best to make clear from the outset that they intend to keep that facet of the story intact. The hiring of Fincher as director, with films such as the aforementioned Se7en or Fight Club already behind him, seems to be one of the best choices to make people trust that this will be the case; he seems to have some magic power to get nasty movies made when other people couldn’t.

But it’s worth bringing up at this point that you might remember Fincher was often dubbed as a misogynist earlier in his career, between killing off Ripley or implying Marla was somehow to blame for everything in Fight Club or because of the ending of Se7en. He’s gotten away from that criticism, and there are elements of Dragon Tattoo that are decidedly not misogynistic almost to the point of being outright feminist.

Yet there is what I feel is a glaring holdover from his debatably misogynistic days here that deeply hurts the overall power of the movie: Fincher keeps very much intact Hollywood’s long-held-dear double standard of showing women naked but not men. To be sure, you get a good look at Mara naked in many different scenes, including some that are presumably meant not to be remotely titillating. Meanwhile, there are a handful of scenes in which it would have made sense to show men naked, but Fincher always plays coy with that. It’s hard to talk about specifically without giving away major plot points, but one in particular that comes relatively early on in the film is extremely glaring for carefully hiding a male character’s hangy-down bits, and it would have been a far more effective scene if they hadn’t.

Elsewhere, Lisbeth drinks Coke with the label pointed at the screen, Mikael smokes Marlboro Reds, and one of Lisbeth’s few friends wears a Nine Inch Nails t-shirt (NIN frontman Trent Reznor again did the score here, after winning an Oscar for his work on Fincher’s The Social Network). The story apparently still is taking place in Sweden despite the fact that no one speaks Swedish, and the suspense is never really ratcheted up in the way that you want it to be. Aside from the latter these might all seem like minor complaints, and they would be if the movie worked, which it doesn’t entirely. Instead, all of those minor things serve the purpose of making the film’s edges seem softer than they should be. At no point did I really care much about the fate of any of the characters; never was I thrilled or scared or even enthralled, and I left feeling vaguely unsatisfied.

That said, the movie runs nearly three hours, and I was never once bored nor did I realize anywhere near the amount of time that had passed had actually already gone by. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo felt like it was over before I knew it, which means it had to have worked on me to at least some extent. That is to say I don’t intend to keep you from seeing this movie, exactly, but I am hoping that when the time comes for the film adaptation of The Girl Who Played with Fire, it will be a more successful venture than this one. | Pete Timmermann

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