"They say that I'm insane. Don't worry. You can nod. I am insane."
When you kick off your film with as beautifully disgusting a title sequence as the one in David Fincher's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", you are typically expected to keep up that kind of stylistic intensity. If we expected anything out of this film, it was a film of stylistic means, which it almost seemed like we were heading into. The eight minute long trailer seemed like the perfect abbreviation and promotion for a film that's a great deal more than your average serving in terms of size. But if I learned anything in the first ten minutes of the film, it was how appropriate the marketing for the film was, as this is ultimately a 2 hour and 38 minute promotion trailer, except there's nothing more to receive from it.
Ficher's film seems to follow Mikael Blomkvist, a newspaper editor who ends up soiling his reputation by falling into a libel prosecution by... someone. It's vague at best, but whatever to free him up in order for him to be sent off to investigate the disappearance of the niece of the head of a rather important corporation. How is it important? Well, that's also rather vague. And why should we really care about the death of a 16-year-old girl? To be honest, I'm not at all sure. The way you bound from subject to unrelated subject in a film trailer is very much true of how the first meeting between Blomkvist and Henrik Vanger goes. It's speedy, abrupt, and we barely get any idea of what's going on. We don't get any room to care about the mystery.
And so the investigation goes forth, but it doesn't take long to get rather bored of the redundant investigations, despite the breakneck pace the film is frantically edited at. So we circle around to the girl who was assigned to do a background check on Blomkvist for this Vanger case, Lisbeth Salander. A 23-year-old ward of the state, she has several piercings, an internalized wardrobe, and a dragon tattoo. And it's much more interested to see her deal with the volatile guardian who has been assigned to her, and therein, the abuse she inevitably takes. It's in these sequences that we see the David Fincher we came to see. Devoted to finding the strange beauty in the ugliest of situations, which there are plenty of here.
And it doesn't take long for the main plot strand to synch back up with the secondary strand of Lisbeth, and here the film finds its strongest sense of cohesiveness, like there's actually a purpose behind what we're seeing. Rooney Mara really is the best choice they could have made for Lisbeth Salander. Her face immediately both affronting and empathetic, she gives off a vibe that is attractive in pretty much every way possible. That's rather obvious even to the most degenerate of viewers, but the part of her performance that augments it all so well is that the output setting of empathy seems to have been switched off on her. Her emotions are very much internalized, and I can draw comparisons to the work of Ryan Gosling. The two would be a very well accommodated onscreen couple, as they are set to be in Terrence Malick's "Lawless". Mara is the core of the film, and I like the film much less than I like her within the film. Sex, smoking, and violence. That's what she provides better than anything else in this film.
Unfortunately, in this case, the presence of one brilliant performance makes it ever so clearer how lacking everyone else in the production is. Steven Zaillian's depressingly by-the-book screenplay leaves no room for anybody to emote. It works for Daniel Craig, who consistently comes off as pathetic, helpless, and such, and it works well for him. It does not for the likes of Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, or the hundreds of other lower level workers who can't seem to ground an inch of charisma in their performances. And it's worth adding that they should have found somebody less typical than Skarsgard for that particular character.
And usually the style would come in and sweep us back to sweet dreams, but not so. This had none of the telltale signs of a David Fincher film, his creativity and imagination muted by obnoxious editing, and I do mean obnoxious. "The Social Network" was paced at quite an economic clip, but this one just came off as pedantic. It doesn't know where it's going with all of this, just that it needs to get there quickly as possible. This movie feels a lot shorter than "Zodiac", but it doesn't feel nearly as rewarding. Even Trent Reznor's score, while occasionally working to pitch perfection, doesn't live up to where it should, or at least feels oddly placed. The ultimate effect is that this is a messy film, and not in a good way like "Shame".