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The Girl With
The Dragon

Nothing says Christmas like murder, rape, incest and a litany of other things that in real life we abhor. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo even throws in Nazism for good measure.

So it isn't exactly a feel good movie, but Director David Fincher and Screenwriter Steve Zaillian have adapted the famous novel into a reasonable entertainment. Maybe "entertainment" seems at odds with the dark subject matter. You may not want to watch it again and again, but The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo will stick with you.

Once you get past the title sequence, that is. Though Fincher is a visually inventive director, that opener seems a little obvious, a strange commercial for some sleek product involving leather, oil and hot women, set to Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song."

Okay, and then there are several odd product placements, but mostly to prove that Google truly has taken over the world. Still, you have to wonder why a hacker like Lisbeth Salander would spend so much time on a Google homepage. Maybe if you're lucky you could have her in your circle of friends.

Lisbeth (Rooney Mara) actually has no friends, though she does have a foster father that we might consider someone she cares about. Her invisibility and unwillingness to connect on a personal level make her a fantastic investigator. But of course there must be a horrible reason for her distance.

By the time we get to that, it's a throwaway moment, underplayed because the past and present keep colliding with horrible results. The reasons why seem to matter far less than what we're supposed to do about the consequences.

Though Lisbeth is the titular character, reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) drives the plot. Disgraced in a slander case, the writer finds direction from wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer).

The cover story Vanger offers is that Mikael will write his biography, but in reality, the old man wants Mikael to solve the mystery of his niece's disappearance decades earlier. To get there, the reporter has to wade through not just dark family secrets, but the family still there and quite happy to be full of darkness.

With the Vangers, we might have a metaphor for Swedish society; more than one character comments on the overall decline of the culture. But Fincher isn't quite as interested in social commentary as he is the evil men can do.

For a while it seems like that Lisbeth might exist just for that commentary. While Mikael's story unfolds, Lisbeth suffers unrelated trauma. Until finally he realizes he's not just investigating a disappearance; he's on the trail of a serial killer.

The film's tag line implying you use evil to fight evil is misleading. Though Lisbeth may be crazy, her violence may also be perfectly justified. In fact, as horrific and terrible as her vengeance can be, the audience kind of wants it to happen. In a society as corrupt as the one presented here, who can judge?

As in Fincher's earlier darker works like Seven and Zodiac, we get enough of the violence to fill in the blanks. In a few places here, he pushes a little further than is comfortable, but balances it with reassuring shots of the ice and snow. On second thought, that isn't quite reassuring.

But that's part of the point. Good may not quite triumph, but it can still happen. Unfortunately, it can also get buried deep in the awfulness of people being unrestrained. Thus things get messy, like the thread of this film's plot, but that's a carryover from the novel.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is riveting – and take comfort that none of the crimes do actually involve rivets. But it's dark fare, not a date movie, and not for those who refuse to believe there's an abyss to even peer into.

Of course you know what's peering back. And it doesn't have a tattoo.

Derek McCaw

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