The opening credits for David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (showtimes) feature the kind of creepy-cool imagery and threatening industrial music you might associate with a vintage Nine Inch Nails video. The credits confirm the suspicion - music by NIN main man Trent Reznor (see bottom of page for a rock musician "Fun Fact") and Atticus Ross. Reznor and Fincher first teamed up on Seven, and the boys' feel-bad outlook hasn't diminished over the years.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the American adaptation of the first book in Stieg Larsson's hugely successful trilogy. All three novels were made into hit Swedish films, but most Americans hate subtitles, so Fincher was invited to do his take on the grim goings-on.
The story: Recently disgraced in court by his enemies, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig, appropriately subdued), takes a case that will get him out of the spotlight for a while. His task is to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a young girl decades ago from a private island inhabited by the Vangers, a rich, weird family with more simmering resentments than a Republican presidential candidates' dinner party.
Blomkvist hires a highly recommended assistant, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara, in a star-making performance). She's an incredibly skilled computer hacker with a sullen demeanor and a punk/goth look. Lisbeth was declared a ward of the state years ago, and her warrior facade is just one of many protective measures she took after being raped.
Dark enough for you? There's more: Nazis, serial killing, incest, torture. Merry Christmas, everybody, would you like a dollop of strychnine-laced whipped cream on your mincemeat pie?
The story is dense, the atmosphere is tense (and that rhyme was unplanned). Fincher's approach is methodical and unhurried. I've seen the original film trilogy and knew what was going to happen, but Fincher's vision still held my attention, even with a running time of nearly two hours and 40 minutes. However, there is a big speed bump about 20 minutes before the closing credits. Not enough to ruin the ride, but it definitely gives your shocks a workout.
Here's the non-spoiler deal: After Mikael and Lizbeth team up, their adventures dominate the proceedings to the point that you nearly forget the case they are working on. When their story reaches its climax, it feels like the end of the movie. But wait, we still have to wrap up the whole disappearance-of-the-young-girl-decades-ago thang. Keep that in mind and perhaps you won't find the last 20 minutes as anticlimactic as I did. Or maybe you will, since the revelations aren't as startling as they're supposed to be. If you've watched Law and Order or similar TV procedurals, you've seen similar twists before.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is stylish and gripping. Be ready for some horrifying images, including a deeply-disturbing rape scene that manages to portray the nightmarish experience without feeling exploitative, a feat the original film could not (or did not want to) manage.
Post-Review Fun Fact: Do you know why solo artists (with sidemen) like Trent Reznor adopt rock band names like Nine Inch Nails rather than simply using their own? Because people buy way more t-shirts with cool band names than t-shirts with somebody's name on them. I always reckoned it was about art and image, but it's just business. Who'd have thought?