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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 2011

Journalist Mikael (Daniel Craig) has just lost a libel case when he is hired by a man named Henrik (Christopher Plummer) to track down his long-disappeared niece. As Mikael digs into the story he uncovers a series of murders and enlists the help of a brilliant-but-traumatized hacker named Lisbeth (Rooney Mara).

It is hard for me to parse exactly how I feel about this film, and I think it's due to several factors. Part of what is challenging for me is having watched the original adaptation not too long ago, lending an air of deja vu to many of the plot twists and turns. But even if I were coming to the film fresh, I think that there were some elements that I'd have found a bit questionable.

To start with the positive, I thought that the lead performances were strong and, in the case of Craig and Mara, suitably endearing. It's a neat trick to let characters be both flawed or awkward and yet lovable, and this film does it very well. It helps, of course, that those characters are engaged in trying to solve a series of brutal murders; that Mikael is fighting against a smarmy criminal billionaire; and that Lisbeth is dealing with a sexually abusive case manager who exploits his power over her.

The story itself, even when you are familiar with its beats, is an interesting one. The film takes an incredibly long time to let Mikael and Lisbeth actually sit down in the same room together. In that beginning third of the film, we watch each of their lives so that we have an understanding of what it means for these two particular personalities to collide. Even though the mystery itself involves some lurid and outlandish tropes (serial murders! connection with the Bible! World War 2 stuff!), they are layered together in a way that makes them feel more enjoyable than absurd.

The film won an Oscar for its editing, and I have to say that even before I knew that fact, I had noticed the way that different sequences were stitched together, sometimes in subtle little ways and sometimes with in-your-face smashes from one image to another. The movie looks good and grimy all at the same time, which is another fine line to walk.

Setting aside my familiarity with the story (which I admit isn't a fair criticism of a movie), there were two things that stood out to me in a negative way.

The first is superficial, but what the heck was going on with the accents?! Daniel Craig is speaking like . . . Daniel Craig. And everyone else is, like, doing their own version of a Swedish accent? Did no one, at the beginning of filming, go "Guys, this sounds kind of silly"?

The second, and something I'm still thinking about, is the portrayal of Lisbeth. As the film went on, she started to become like the dark version of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, right down to
WARNING: spoilers below
matter-of-factly sexually servicing a man who is old enough to be her father. Now, I do think that the film does a good job of showing that Lisbeth is attracted to Mikael in part because not only does he respect her, but his existence in her space is never sexually charged and he has no interest in exploiting her. Still, there's something that feels not quire right about a victim of repeated sexual assault/exploitation being the body we see nude over and over, while the bodies of the men are chastely hidden or relegated to distant profile shots. I mean, the villain of the film literally gets off on filming female bodies in distress, and the movie itself feels like it comes uncomfortably close to the same thing. And even aside from the sex stuff, she just becomes too supehuman in the final act. There's a balance of vulnerability that just gets lost in the end and she begins to feel more like a fetish object than a person. She honestly started to make me think of a male character from a trashy mystery series I used to read who was just this dude who would show up, was somehow good with technology and guns and fighting and everything.

All in all I enjoyed the film (though anyone who is sensitive to violence/sexual violence should be warned that there are some graphic and disturbing things that happen on screen), but it feels a bit like it missed being something really good.