Trash Hit: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

by |
12/21/2011 4:00 AM |

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Directed by David Fincher

“Except for Zodiac, Fincher has never had a screenplay worthy of his talents,” wrote Amy Taubin circa Benjamin Button. So, at what point does that become his fault? Auteurism began as a way of elevating individual laborers’ agency within a hierarchical industry. But Fincher’s a player; whatever he’s doing with projects that seem to aggregate all the irritating givens of A-picture screenwriting—Social Network‘s smugly on-the-nose teleplay banter and recent-historical archetype sorting; Button‘s daddy issues courtesy the inevitable Eric Roth; even the mighty Zodiac‘s lamely self-parodic interludes—it’s a shade more complicated than simply redeeming them, even if his relentless, affectless accumulation, filtered monochrome and industrial music signify a monomania jumping from picture to picture. He makes this prurient, preposterous, supremely profitable Swedish publishing franchise better than it has any right to be, but that doesn’t mean we should be happy about it.

Rooney Mara, hidden behind a thick-tongued Swedish accent but not invisibly blonde eyebrows, finds room for an actual performance as Lisbeth Salander, the miracle-working hacker who brings home lezzie nightclub pickups until she finds a man to trust; Mara’s helped by Steven Zaillian’s adaptation, which suggestively withholds Salander’s backstory as it streamlines the previous blocky Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s novel (though deposits of dry humor generate little warmth). Fincher settles into the blue-white Scandinavian winter and cold-case procedural, cross-cutting as hard-living muckraker Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig, modeling rumpled grayscale casualwear) and Salander cross-reference a long-ago disappearance and serial killings.

The unsolved murders are grisly-baroque, though the real money scenes are the anal rape-revenge arc played out by Salander and her swollen court-appointed guardian. Horrific abuse contrived so we can cheer for even more brutal sexual violence coming back the other way—that’s terrible, even without the insulting and unhelpful implication that trauma can and should be overcome by role-reversal (parallel stories, uncovered in the investigation, of abuse cycles broken and unbroken do little to mitigate the suggestion, mostly due to the material’s structural ungainliness). Fincher scores the first assault to the wall-closing drone of a floor buffer, because there’s nothing like virtuoso filmmaking to really make you feel the pain of sexual victimization.

Opens December 21