“Dragon Tattoo” leaves indelible mark on holiday movie season

Like any movie adaptation of a popular book, it is important to remember the differences between the two media forms, and to view each as a distinct entity, with their own advantages and limitations.

Luckily for me, I have never read the book so it was pretty easy to go into this film as a blank slate.

I know, I know, it’s bibliographical blasphemy to say that you haven’t read Stieg Larsson’s tattooed trilogy, but I just never had the time or the means to do so. However, I can safely say after watching this film that I have an even greater desire to rectify this mistake.

It’s no stretch to say that “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is one of the most cerebral movies I’ve seen in a long time. Granted, when the most recent movies I’ve seen are “Twilight: Breaking Dawn” and “Shark Night 3D”, this isn’t much of a stretch.

"No, you see, the cage is a metaphor for my dissatisfaction with my career prospects."

One of the reasons I liked this movie so much is that I respect how hard to make a good mystery film. It’s easy for something to come across as too obvious or easy, robbing the audience of any drama, or to make the protagonist so seemingly infallible that the audience can’t hope to relate to or identify with him.

Thus.

And that is what makes this movie so incredibly good. Too often characters become derivative, mere vehicles by which the plot moves forward. The subtlety and care it takes to make it clear that the plot is driven forward by the characters. The characters in this movie are complex, sometimes almost unduly so, mysterious, and, most importantly, believable. Granted, none of us might be the self-professed maniac that Lisbeth is, but we can sympathize with her present, and see how her checkered past may have driven her to such extremes.

But even the greatest characters can be undone by a sub-par performance.

Thus.

But luckily “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is home to two powerhouse performances from its protagonists. Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist with painstaking care. His pain over his initial libel conviction, his desire for revenge, and later his obsession with the details of the case he is charged to solve all come across as genuine. This is easily the best performance I’ve ever seen him give, though that’s not saying much since I never much cared for him as James Bond.

The real revelation from this film comes via the performance of Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander. Simply put, she nails it. The omnipresent rage bubbling just beneath a forcibly calm demeanor, the confidence (almost to the point of arrogance) in her abilities. But more than anything, it’s a marvel to see how organically her character develops throughout the film. Sometimes, it seems like characters change because the script tells them to do so, but Mara’s Lisbeth evolves in a way that is stunning. It is, without hyperbole, one of the best acting performances I have seen in a long time.

If I have one major complaint with the movie, it’s the lack of Swedish accents. It’s nitpicky, I admit, but I’m always distracted when a movie purports to take place in one country, and yet everyone sounds more like a wide-eyed tourist than an active participant in the plot.

Thus.

I also didn’t much care for the opening scene, which features an industrial version of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” It’s overly weird, and the song is incredibly jarring (particularly given how atmospheric and reserved the rest of the score is) but again, that’s a nitpick.

Bottom line, go see this movie. It has its disturbing moments, but top to bottom it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen this year, and deserves all of the praise it has gotten, and more.

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