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GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, THE (2011)

SYNOPSIS:
After a provincial fair in Sweden, 16-year old Harriet Vanger (Moa Garpendal) disappears without a trace on September 29, 1966. Nearly forty years later, investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is commissioned by her uncle, the elderly patriarch of a wealthy family, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), to try and find out what happened to Harriet. Vanger's security firm hires a professional but unorthodox young hacker, Lisbeth (Rooney Mara) to run a thorough background check on Blomqvist. As Blomqvist's probing reaches into the family's past, he asks for an assistant - and is offered Lisbeth. The two uncover dark secrets and attract deadly danger.

Review by Louise Keller:
This dense and edgy thriller gives the impression of being a big film. You get the feeling as you walk away from the cinema that you have seen a film of substance: one with scale, an intricate plot, a great sense of place, intriguing relationships and one whose enigmatic central character is a knock-out.

The challenge for the filmmakers of this English remake of the 2009 Swedish language adaptation of Stieg Larsson's best selling Millennium trilogy was to come up with a film that would satisfy those like me, who had seen and loved the original film. Others have been seduced by the novel and additionally some have simply heard the buzz and are wondering what the fuss is all about.

I adored the original so it was with slight reservations that I went along to see this one. Simply put, I love what director David Fincher has done. Without taking anything away from the original film by Danish director Niels Arden Oplev, this stylish film soars. While it has different strengths, it successfully retains the story's essential mood.

The key to the credibility of the film lies in the casting of its incongruous diminutive heroine Lisbeth Salander (Mara) and the morally scrupulous journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) and the chemistry they evoke with each other. Mara gives an extraordinary performance, adding her own signature to a role that Noomi Rapace had already claimed in the original film. So that in itself is a significant achievement. Her Lisbeth (with the jet black hair and bleached eyebrows) lives in her own world, avoiding eye contact and living life on her own terms, with no social niceties.

The scenes in which we learn how she survives as a ward of the state, with a legal guardian who demands sexual favours in return for giving her access to her money, are blunt and disturbing. Unsurprisingly, the rape scene is aptly harrowing and effectively gives licence for Lisbeth's dramatic actions. These clearly show she is well able to take care of herself.

Craig effortlessly works his way into the role of Blomkvist. He looks and feels right in the role and the chemistry between Craig and Mara is palpable - there is nothing conventional about the relationship between the bi-sexual, multi-pierced and tattooed computer hacker Lisbeth and the professionally ethical Blomkvist. Passion in cold settings always seems to ignite fire.

When the film begins, Blomkvist has been convicted of libel in a high-profile court case. He is subsequently hired by Henrik Vanger (Plummer), one of Sweden's wealthiest industrialists, to help solve a mystery involving 'the most detestable people imaginable' - his family. Blomkvist's co-publisher Erika Berger (Wright), with whom he is having an ongoing affair is none too pleased when he heads to a remote Swedish island, where Vanger and his dysfunctional family live. Vanger's obsession is to find out what happened to his 16 year old niece Harriet, believed murdered, 40 years earlier.

Shot in Sweden, the locations are stunning with their wintry skies, snowy landscape and distinctive European beauty. As Blomkvist investigates, Lisbeth's story is juxtaposed in parallel - until their paths intersect. The scene when they fall into bed together is one that has all the best elements: surprise, humour and passion.

Fincher has grasped the story's essential sensibilities as the tale unfolds, complete with its ugly revelations. The cast is perfect with Stellan Skarsgård bringing gravitas and cultural credibility as the nephew who lives in the designer house on the hill. Plummer is pitch perfect, Joely Richardson terrific and Robin Wright works well as Blomkvist's business partner and occasional lover.

The film's tone and dark production design contribute to its mood and it plays out with high tension. There is action, a thrilling chase, traces of humour and a solid, engrossing storyline that keeps us on the edge of our seats for the duration. It's long, but the running time flies. This is a remake worth seeing.
First published in the Sun-Herald

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Appropriately enough, striking graphics accompanied by punchy musical motifs launch this English language adaptation of the best selling Swedish thriller by Stieg Larsson. Appropriately because the story contains plenty of graphic elements, all carefully transplanted from page to screen for maximum impact.

David Fincher's version is eagerly anticipated both by those who love the Millennium trilogy of books and those who have enjoyed the original Swedish adaptation of this the first novel. The latter will want to know how this one compares (but as someone once said comparisons are odious), with Craig and Mara in the key roles. Suffice to say Mara nails the enigmatic Lisbeth. Of course the whole point of an American remake is to capture the massive audiences who don't go to subtitled movies but are familiar with and interested in the characters and stories.

And no wonder; it's a great story and substantial characters: Craig plays Mikel Blomkvist, an investigative journalist at the Millennium magazine he co-owns with Frode (Wright). He's just been fined a hefty sum for running a corruption story on businessman Wennerstrom (Ulf Friberg) which turned out to be false. His public humiliation is interrupted by a call from venerable old business tycoon Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), who - before he dies - wants Blomkvist's skills used to find out what happened to his beloved 16 year old niece Harriet, who disappeared in 1966, over 40 years ago, on the island where the family has lived for generations.

But it's Mara Rooney as Lisbeth Salander, the punk chick with piercings and a steely façade who can hack into pretty much any computer at will, whose demons and character make this such a fascinating work. Made a ward of the state at 12 and lumbered with a new legal guardian who abuses her, carrying the scars of many betrayals and abuses, Lisbeth is angry and distrustful - but also resourceful. She is no victim as a character.

The plot unfolds like grand a mystery thriller, clues glimpsed as Mikel and Lisbeth dig into the past. But even their clever forensic work needs a bit of luck, and it comes from Mikel's teenage daughter's casual observation about a clue that Mikel had no way of recognising.

All the relationships in the film, from the most pivotal to the least important, are carefully managed to make an impact and draw us into the extraordinary elements. Mikel and Lisbeth don't fall into bed at the most obvious moment, nor is that ever a certainty. Both of them are driven by their functions as moral guardians, in a way, albeit not necessarily always law abiding. On the other hand, they are never vigilantes.

The supporting cast is sensational, from Christopher Plummer as Henrik to Stellan Skarsgard as Martin, two very different sides to the Vanger family, to Joely Richardson as the outsider, Anita and Steven Berkoff as the Vanger consigliore.

The themes touched include corporate corruption, greed, crime, family dysfunction, wartime secrets, justice, sex and of course love - although don't go expecting any traditional forms of that.

Sex is not the only thing that's unconventional in this film and it does have multiple roles and meanings. Satisfyingly complex and captivating, the film holds our attention for the entire 158 minutes of running time.

The cultural settings of the original were crucial to the film's tone; Fincher has managed to retain much of the Swedish cultural furniture (eg locations) and ambiance, yet deliver the dialogue in English. That's a neat feat.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, THE (2011) (MA15+)
(US/Sweden/UK/Germany, 2011)

CAST: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorick van Wageningen, Joely Richardson, Goran Visnjic, Embeth Davidtz, Joel Kinnaman, Elodie Yung, Julian Sands, Steve Berkoff

PRODUCER: Scott Rudin, Ole Sondeborg, Soren Staermose, Cean Chaffin

DIRECTOR: David Fincher

SCRIPT: Steven Zaillian (novel by Stieg Larsson)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jeff Cronenweth

EDITOR: Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall

MUSIC: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Donald Graham Burt

RUNNING TIME: 158 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 12, 2012







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