Friday, December 23, 2011

'Girl with a Dragon Tattoo' Sets and Keeps a Pace

Lisbeth and Mikael have a meeting of the minds in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures.

"THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO" takes its time in the telling. It’s not at all the type of film that the mainstream of U.S. audiences is accustomed to sitting through.

At 158 minutes (actually around 10 of those are credits), it will not be rushed. The first in a trilogy by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” tells the story of both disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and dysfunctional, psychologically troubled, tattooed computer hacker Lisbeth Salande (Rooney Mara).

The duo is retained to investigate the long-ago murder of a member of the eccentric, prominent Vanger family. The film opened Wednesday and is expected to do good business at the box office. (See trailer:

A colleague strenuously suggested that Yours Truly should see director Niels Arden Oplev version of “The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo,” which has the distinction of being the highest grossing European film of 2009. But would that be fair to the American “Girl?”

Indeed, it is a U.S. production, judging by the product placements: 7-Eleven, Purell Hand Sanitizer, Coco-Cola and Marlboro. Apparently, the Swedes have/had a love jones for the cancer sticks. That would explain their presence in a film set in Sweden. But 7-Eleven? Purell Hand Sanitzer!?!?

In any case, I digress. I will not be seeing the Swedish production (“Män som hatar kvinnor”), so my comments must be confined to the version I screened. “The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo” opens on Mikael’s big indiscretion. In essence, he "libeled" a corrupt industrialist when he could not prove the facts behind the story that he published in the “Millennium,” the investigative rag that he runs with his lover/married colleague (Robin Wright). The publication is sued within an inch of its life.

It is also around this time that Mikael is being considered to investigate the murder of Harriet Vanger by an uncle (Christopher Plummer). Pressed into service on the downlow to look into Mikael's background is none other than Lisbeth. She gathers much of her intelligence by hacking into his computer. For all of her brilliance, the State thinks the young woman is incompetent to conduct her own affairs. Without doubt, she lacks basic social skills. Possibly, she is a menace to society, which is why she is an adult ward of the state with a kindly guardian, lecherous social worker (Yorick van Wageningen) and money that is out of her control.

Mikael (Daniel Craig) agrees to investigate the murder of Henrik's (Christopher Plummer) niece in “The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo.”

“The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo” might have been better left on the page rather than being adapted to the big screen. The film takes its own sweet time in the telling, overlapping what’s going on with Mikael and what’s going on with Lisbeth, giving insights into their background to explain why they have arrived at this common place. Or why they will arrive at this common place – working together to solve a long-ago murder.

Too much time is devoted to their respective investigations. It is extremely difficult to produce engaging material out of the act of looking into a computer screen, typing furiously on its keyboard, poring over documents and considering a list of photos on a storyboard. The result is that a good chunk of the film is plodding – and frankly – boring

The action and interest do pick up immensely when the protagonists finally meet about half way through the film. Mikeal and Lisbeth are opposite that are compatible in more ways than one. It is almost possible to see the electrical currents when they are in a room together. DG comports himself competently, credibly portraying an experienced, investigative journalist instead of James Bond in the guise of a journalist.

“The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo,” however, is RM’s film. Not only because she is the character of the title. Her Lisbeth approaches everything she does with extreme gravitas. She rides that motorcycle like a bat out of hell regardless of the importance of the destination. She appears to be angry at the world and will unleash her wrath at the least provocation. Lisbeth brooks no false sincerity, she’s above it all. Just the facts, please, let’s not pretend that we are friends or care for each other.

Lisbeth (Rooney Mara) tells her social worker, Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen), what she really thinks about him in “The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo.”

Whenever RM is on screen, even in the scenes amongst the archives, the eye is riveted to her. She is cool, calculated, armed and dangerous. The scenes with the tattoo paraphernalia and the blond wig are painful proof. It’s a taut, intense performance.

“The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo” ends on a surprising and satisfactory note. The second half of the film makes up a good deal for the slow pacing of the first.

“The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo” is rated R for brutal violent content, including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity and language.

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