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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is really the mashup of two stories.  One’s a Hitchcockian mystery, about a family that brings in a private investigator to solve a age-old murder.  It’s exactly the kind of story in which the culprit has a secret torture chamber hidden in his basement that the protagonist will eventually stumble upon. And while this story operates along elegant, well-traveled, even classical lines, the second story is much grittier and more unpredictable.  It’s about an edgy social outcast who gets revenge on the social worker who raped her, because she’s brilliant with gadgetry and the like.  The melding of the two storylines– when the outcast meets the proper detective– is a little rough (the sex scene especially felt abrupt and out of nowhere) but, I suppose without the mashup, there’d be no reason for this movie to exist at all.

Daniel Craig is an investigative reporter who has just gotten spanked in court, not for being wrong, but for failing to provide sufficient evidence that he was right.  Christopher Plummer is the patriarch of a wealthy island-dwelling Swedish family who don’t much like or talk to each other.  Plummer hires Craig to investigate a 30-year-old murder within the family, though he’s ostensibly authoring the family memoirs.  It’s hard to say which idea would be more horrifying to the family; to have all their oddities in print (they are legion) or to finally have the murderer turn out to be a member of the family.

The mystery churns along quite nicely, turning on tiny details uncovered through hours of painstaking research that lead to major revelations.  Craig hires Mara on the recommendation of a friend, and, despite her goth/punk appearance and “actions speak louder than words” ethos, she is a crack investigator, the kind who doesn’t blink at spending days searching through financial and business travel logs searching for the one piece of data that tells the tale.  (This seems slightly incongruent to me; nothing about Mara’s persona suggests patience, but the work she’s so good at requires it in heaps.)

Rooney Mara got nominated for an Oscar for her performance here, and, in my opinion, that’s almost a crime.  There’s no sign of an inner life at all.  She just moves from one decisive action to the next.   Yes, there’s a lot of energy in the performance, and anger and determination.  But do we have the slightest idea what the character is thinking, or feeling?   No.  Only what she is doing.   This, to me, just barely qualifies as acting.

I enjoyed “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” but have to say, I expected more from director David Fincher.  I’m seeing a trend here: every other movie he makes is great.  (“Fight Club” was; “Panic Room” wasn’t.  “Zodiac” was; “Benjamin Button” wasn’t.  “The Social Network” was…) And while “Dragon Tattoo” is certainly better than his other misses, the direction feels workmanlike and uninspired; this is a film adapted from a  book that was written with an eye for the big screen, and never feels like anything else.  Fincher is capable of more; here’s hoping his next movie keeps up the trend, and shows off his talent more brightly.

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