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Movie Reviews

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

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Neil Pond
American Profile
January 18, 2012
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Starring Daniel Craig

& Roony Mara

Directed by David Fincher

R, 158 min.

One of the most anticipated movies of the year, Hollywood’s adaptation of Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s best-selling crime novel arrived just in time to ensure no one overdosed on seasonal sweetness.

“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is a tense, unsettling, decidedly anti-sweet plunge into a dark, toxic world where the bleak Scandinavian setting isn’t the only thing cold, cruel and unforgiving. There are no tidings of comfort and joy here.

Even its opening title sequence, an ever-morphing collage of sadistic-nightmare images, plants seeds of agonies that later sprout into full bloom.

Larsson’s book has sold more than 15 million copies in America alone and already spawned a Swedish film adaptation, so a lot of viewers will settle into their multiplex seats familiar with its lurid tale of a crusading disgraced journalist, a series of disturbingly deviant murders, and the tattooed female avenger who helps him solve them.

The movie retains the novel’s native wintry Swedish location but casts British and American actors in the lead roles of reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and computer-hacking, motorcycle-riding, punked-out Lisbeth Salander (Roony Mara).

Blomkvist and Salander don’t come together until the movie is well underway, and the dense plot alternates the two characters’ individual converging storylines while setting up the sordid case on which they eventually collaborate, a twisted knot of malignant misogyny within the family of a business aristocrat (Christopher Plummer).

Director David Fincher reunites with his soundtrack collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from “The Social Network,” the award-winning 2010 drama in which actress Mara, who plays Lisbeth, also had a minor but essential role.

With an original Swedish title of “Men Who Hate Women,” Larsson’s novel---and the two sequels in the trilogy it launched---ignited controversy. Was it a revenge fantasy about a female empowered by her own brutal experiences of rape to become a relentless, retribution-dispensing heroine on behalf of other victims? Or did the story wallow with a bit too much delight in the details of the almost unspeakably horrific sex crimes at the center of its pitch-black heart?

Whatever, readers lapped it up, and there’s little doubt that many viewers will do likewise. Based on the mainstream public’s seemingly unquenchable appetite for TV “crime procedurals” that routinely put detectives on shockingly graphic trails of discovery, the movie’s descriptions, discussions and depictions of human suffering will be for many just another entrée in an iron-gut entertainment diet.

Effectively conveying a nearly suffocating atmosphere of dread and danger, it’s a riveting, intentionally unnerving trip into the stylishly sinister depths of a chamber of horrors that will no doubt delight fans of the “Dragon Tattoo” franchise.

But anyone with a sensibility on the delicate side should be advised: Like the tattoos spread across Lisbeth’s body, this is one movie that truly, thoroughly gets under your skin---and makes it crawl.

--Neil Pond, American Profile

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