01 January 2012

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Genre: Action

David Fincher as a director, we know, has a predilection for crafting subtly anarchical tales about curious people, living on the fringes of society either because of social isolation or behind it, (see Se7en, 1995; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 2008; or The Social Network, 2010). It therefore came as no surprise to me, that he chose to helm this film, the second adaptation of the popular novel with the same title. Mr. Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is thus an agglomeration of the novel's elements that has been hand-smoothened into a black-toned ovoid with a polished veneer; the film takes the sinister-aspiring contrivances of the original plot into a streamlined vessel that is at once appealing yet imperfect.

The story's pacing is usually tight; however, it is especially packed with hearty content in the active portion of the film. For an action film, this shape is not surprising; however, for an action film by David Fincher the shape is surprising. It surprises, because it breaks the steady balance that he as a director seeks to create in all his compositions. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, as a result, is a curious departure from his past work, wherein methodical storytelling rather than expositive adventury ruled the day.

This break from past work is complemented but not masked by an insistent adherence to isolation as a motif throughout the narrative. Leading characters break from their societies, their regular modes of being, their principles, and even themselves in instances reinforced by lingeringly distant cameras and then images of images, all displacing the people involved in the work (i.e., all performers, director, and viewers) from their natural posts. It is this stylistic decision that does render some of the film's aesthetic appeal, that does give the ovoid film its thickly concentric layers, but it is moreover this decision that renders the storytelling obtuse and imprecise, that makes the connection with the heart of the matter a struggle against an ever rising tide rather than an artful challenge to be overcome. Unlike in The Social Network wherein the characterized isolates bond and rebond into telling compositions, in this film such telling bonding is limited, shunted into predictable tropes that actively stand against the director's best work (e.g., hastily abridged sex scenes [by whose edition one gets the sense of the director's being mired in his own puzzle], revelative murderous soliloquies), so that the abilities of the elements to develop a moving captivating picture are constricted and then only forced to fit.

Now, this critique is not to say that the action and the drama of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are horribly contrived, implausible, and anti-immersive or anti-engaging; no, rather, this critique is to say that the demands of this particular film's being told were apparently such that synchronizing rich and engaging storytelling became a challenge so great for the film creators, that they could feasibly produce only one (i.e., rich or engaging) and chose the latter for its visceral appeal. Such a choice is not wrong per se, and I would be hard pressed to ever say that choosing the other is necessarily better; however, I can say that making the choice, rather than emphasizing the difficulty, is divisive and ultimately deleterious to the product. The film cannot stand as a great work unless its shape and structure undergird with substance the attractive and well orchestrated tension on the surface. Mr. Fincher, judged on past work, does know this fact. He seems only to have strayed from it here, in this alluring but unsturdy piece.

Grade: B-

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