‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ (2011) review: Revenge, a dish best served violently

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‘Dragon Tattoo’ a show of force

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a story about a girl.

True, she’s a picture-perfect fantasy of a feminist outlaw, but a girl nonetheless. Here, through a lethal combination of intelligence and force, with an underlying current of vulnerability, Lisbeth Salander could be a hero of our time. A contradictory force in Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy, brilliantly portrayed here by Rooney Mara, Lisbeth’s fury and cold calculations openly splash across her face, though they belie the lost and abused child she still is. She possesses a strange appeal, more interesting than most modern-day heroes, yet still causes double takes thanks to her obsidian bangs, piercings and tattoos. And though her story is one of pain and suffering with a smattering of violent revenge, it is a story worth being told.

Directed by David Fincher and written by Steven Zaillian, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is the second rendition of the first book in the hit trilogy, the first being a Swedish version directed by Niels Arden Oplev. A common issue with the movie (and the book) was that it came across as an excruciatingly boring explanation sequence. Fincher’s version, though mostly managing to stay vivid and exciting, is truly no better off. The fault here, though, lies more with Larsson’s clumsy storytelling than with Fincher. There’s a feeling of procedure, of having to slog through the exposition to get to the action. Don’t be confused: Fincher creates scenes of stunning suspense and confusion (thanks in large part to the chill-inducing soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross), but there also are long stretches of dry explanation bordering on “Cold Case” status. (The movie is more than two hours long.)

Creating a powerful aura of moral despair and political malfeasance, Fincher recreates Larsson’s corrupt world. Here, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), his career in ruins and his magazine in jeopardy after a libel judgment, is hired by a wealthy industrialist, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), to investigate a decades-old crime. For the most part, Fincher adheres to Larsson’s storyline, which will please his literal-demanding fans.

To say the Vanger family is dysfunctional would be an understatement. The family, which lives on a island, includes rapists, murderers, alcoholics, recluses and even Nazis. The Vangers are monstrous, with a few exceptions. But it seems it isn’t just the Vanger clan that is morally lacking.

Around every corner, Lisbeth and Mikael discover obscene criminality, as if a veil of unbridled evil has washed over the upper echelons of the nation’s economy and government. And holding true to Larsson’s writings, the main culprits here are men, a misogynist ruling order unworthy of redemption.

And though Lisbeth and Mikael aren’t the only decent people in the country, their enemies are so numerous and powerful it seems they can never be overcome.

It is Lisbeth’s story, though, not Mikael’s, that makes the movie. He is but a sidekick to this angry, beautiful young woman and the life she leads in a world that tries at every opportunity to tear her down. Don’t be dismayed, though: She won’t be taken down so easily. And for that, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is in a class of its own.

Four vengeful stars out of five.

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Rooney Mara, as Lisbeth Salander, is shown in a scene from "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." (Photo credit: Columbia Pictures)

Rooney Mara, as Lisbeth Salander, is shown in a scene from “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” (Photo credit: Columbia Pictures)

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