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Movie Review: ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’

Dimitrios Kambouris/FilmMagic(NEW YORK) -- You know what’s great about David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Everything.

In what could be the most exhilarating title sequence ever created, Fincher immediately immerses us in the dark, twisted, ink-stained, hi-tech nightmares of our dark, twisted ink-stained, hi-tech heroine, Lisbeth Salander.  The visuals are matched with a scorching cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" by Trent Reznor and Karen O that, while surrounding you in all of its Dolby® digital glory, completes an effect that is the closest thing to the real-world manifestation of a movie scene you will ever experience (Think Jeff Daniels’ Tom Baxter in Purple Rose of Cairo, a film character who actually steps out of the screen into the theater).

For those unfamiliar with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, our story begins with the epic downfall of Daniel Craig’s Mikael Blomkvist, perhaps Sweden’s top investigative journalist, after he's found guilty of defaming a billionaire businessman.  Even with his rugged, movie-star good looks, Craig plays the wounded everyman well, informing his character with a blue-collar gravitas. An intellectual who has spent his career taking down the powerful, Blomkvist must now fall on his own sword.

In the midst of orchestrating his departure from the magazine he helped build, Blomkvist is offered the opportunity to solve a 40-year-old mystery: the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, the 16-year-old niece of Henrik Vanger, one of the many scions of the wealthy Vanger family and the former CEO of the Vanger Corporation.

Prior to hiring Blomkvist, Vanger’s right hand-man hires a detective agency to investigate him.  Vanger’s man is warned before meeting the investigator: “She is different.” 

“In what way?” Blomkvist asks.

“In every way.”

She is Lisbeth Salander, and oh, is she different, starting with her appearance. The contrast between her pale skin, black hair and jacket is practically a visual slap in the face. When your eyes recover, you’ll notice the piercings, and then the cold, clinical stare, perhaps Lisbeth's second line of defense against a mainstream world in which she finds it difficult to exist.  Salander delivers a lengthy and complex report on Blomkvist, providing more information and detail than Vanger had bargained for, from Blomkvist's breakfast habits to his sexual proclivities.

Once Blomkvist is hired, Vanger shares with him the story of Harriet, who vanished without a trace on a September day in 1966 and is believed to be dead.  Henrik Vanger wants Blomkvist to find out what really happened to Harriet. Investigating a 40-year-old disappearance offers many complexities but this case is especially challenging, given that Blomkvist is staying on the same island that's home to the entire Vanger family -- and these people are hardly the Brady Bunch (especially the Nazi family members). Before long, Blomkvist discovers Harriet may have been the victim of a serial killer, but he needs help proving it.  Once he's presented with the background check Lisbeth conducted on him, he realizes she's the one he needs, and hires her to assist in his investigation.

Lisbeth has her own set of issues. The most harrowing would be her legal guardian, who's slightly less evil than the actual villain in this film. Be warned, you will see brutal rape scenes, both sickening and extraordinary.  Rooney Mara delivers one of the most horrifying and convincing rape depictions in the history of cinema -- not once, but twice.  Throughout the film she is simply electric, 3D without the glasses.

Perhaps the only thing more impressive than Rooney Mara's performance is director David Fincher’s instinct to cast her in the role.  You could write a book about Fincher’s attention to detail but break down The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo frame by frame and I suspect you will find every scene to be perfect.  It’s not just the visuals.  A Fincher film, especially this one, is also  a magnificent aural experience.  I don't mean the beautifully enigmatic, discordant score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.  I’m talking about the sound of the wind, or the crackle of a drag on a cigarette. Visually, you may want to take a winter coat into the theater, because those exterior shots in Sweden make you feel like you're smack in the middle of a Nordic winter.

If you're reading this to determine if this version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is better than the Swedish version, directed by Niels Arden Oplev and starring Noomi Rapace as Salander, my answer is that they're very different movies. Chalk it up in part to the lack of a language barrier but I found Fincher’s version a bit more nuanced and entertaining. Mara’s interpretation of Lisbeth is different than Rapace's, but you know what? They’re both brilliant.

What it ultimately comes down to is Fincher engages the senses like few others.  In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, he immerses us in a gripping, moody, twisted thriller that leaves us begging for more.

Five out of five stars.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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