Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
A frustrated Rooney Mara reminds a sobbing Daniel Craig that
he's  "James Bond" and she's using Johnson's "No More Tears"
baby shampoo, so he should "man the hell up" and quit  sobbing
like an overgrown toddler whenever a little gets in his precious
"movie-star" eyes.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Review Written by: Alex Sandell

When a Hollywood adaptation of the much beloved Stieg Larsson novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was announced, moviegoers were justifiably skeptical. A mere two years earlier a well-liked film version was released with the actors speaking Swedish and subtitles filling the bottom of the screen. "So, we're getting a remake because Hollywood doesn't think Americans can read?" snobby people asked in snobby threads on the Internet machine. First, this isn't a remake -- its an adaptation of a popular novel. Second, of course Americans known how to read, most of them just prefer not to when in a movie theater. There's texting to be done.

Looking at the pedigree of the people involved with the U.S. adaptation gave "average" fans of the book hope. With the guy behind Schindler's List, Gangs of New York and American Gangster (Steven Zaillian) writing the screenplay, there was no doubt this movie wouldn't flinch. With the manic mind behind Fight Club, Se7en and Zodiac (David Fincher) brought in as Director, it was clear the film would move while not moving away from the more controversial elements of the book.

Things looked good. At least until the opening credits. When "The Immigrant Song" began blasting out of the speakers and a ridiculous, ill-fitting James Bond-ish credit sequence with phoenix's on fire and naked oil people hitting one another between bouts of passionate love making in fields of flying hornets, a person couldn't be blamed for thinking all the, "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo went Hollywood" criticisms were well-founded. But then the actual movie began and thankfully it never went off the tracks again.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the movie you wanted to see while you were reading the book. It's the very pictures you saw in your head as you read. The film is faithful. Perhaps too much so. If there's one complaint, it's that it suffers Harry Potter-itis in that it feels it must cram nearly everything from the novel into a 2.5 hour film. If you haven't read the book, expect to do some head-scratching the first couple times you watch the flick.

Are multiple viewings required? No. But they will be desired. This is an entertaining movie. And it's one that sticks with you long after you leave the theater. It's merely unfortunate that it does sometimes feel like the CliffNotes' Girl with the Dragon Tattoo instead of a fully unique cinematic experience.

The 2009 adaptation never fully did the novel justice. The sense of paranoia and dread felt by Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) was never adequately explored. The guy's basically trapped on an island of misfit Nazis and their freaky enablers. A close-knit (for all the wrong reasons) corporate family whom, despite being situated right next to one another and sharing a common distrust of outsiders, only despise one thing more than their own blood -- a stranger investigating their bloodline and looking to solve a mystery thought long dead. That stranger is Mikael, and the closer he gets to solving the puzzle, the more this rabid 1% of society close in on him. If not for Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) -- a somewhat Sociopathic deviant with super-hacking skills and a taste for Hot Tropic clothing and makeup -- poor Mikael would be devoured. Even with her, the outlook isn't exactly rosy for this makeshift detective.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is, more than anything, a really violent whodunit. If you're a fan of Agatha Christie you'll probably enjoy this film. As long as you don't mind a handful of sex scenes and a couple of brutal scenes of rape and/or torture. These scenes were the ones that many suspected would be watered down for American audiences afraid of things such as bare breasts and exposed buttocks. While not as intense as the book, the U.S. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is actually a more violent and sexually graphic adaptation of the novel than its Swedish counterpart. Take that, sexually liberated Europeans!

But the film isn't there to titillate. David Fincher never lets his movie devolve into grindhouse camp and, unlike the 2009 film, he never lets his picture turn into a petty revenge fantasy. The scenes meant to be brutal are brutal. Not fun. Brutal. Some may need to look away. None will enjoy these moments. But fans of the book and fans of quality film will likely enjoy the movie, nonetheless. Not in spite of its uncompromising handling of these scenes, but in part because of it.

David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is probably as good an adaptation as a fan could ask for. The director constantly cuts between Mikael and Lisbeth, even mid-scene. At first this comes off as distracting, but by the time the film is done it is more like a revelation. In the books -- particularly the second -- our lead characters are rarely together. By constantly cutting between their simultaneous and related sleuthing, Fincher gives the impression they're working together even when they're hundreds of miles apart. It's a very clever way to present the story and makes The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a special viewing experience. Mikael and Lisbeth don't feel distant, as they did in the earlier film or even in the book, they feel like they're constantly working together, toward the same goal, even when they're not. It's an innovative way of storytelling that should leave fans and newcomers alike equally impressed.

As far as the acting? The cast is top-notch. Especially our leads. Rooney Mara, a trust-fund baby but relative newcomer to film, more than holds her own. She owns the character of Lisbeth Salander. It will be hard for you to accept anyone else in the role. Daniel Craig, while initially coming off as too fit and heroic for Mikael Blomkvist, manages to convince us that he's just frumpy enough, just insecure enough, just clumsy enough and just gullible enough, to actually be something other than a super hero. Something more than a spin on James Bond. He manages to convince us he's merely an average joe. Someone in over their head, but unwilling to admit to that fact or surrender.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, thankfully, never lives up to its opening credit sequence. This isn't James Bond. This isn't an action-packed thriller. This is a relatively subtle mystery and a compelling character study. The filmmakers clearly got the novel and, consequently, get the most out of the novel. This isn't a Hollywood sellout. This is Hollywood showing what it can do at its best. Impress, surprise and leave audiences begging for more. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is just what the fans were demanding.

83 out of 100

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©2012 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved]. Copy this without my permission and I'll send Lisbeth after you with her tattoo gun. You do know what she can do with that gun, don't you?