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Ten Word or Less Review: Dragon tattoo girl is back, again.

The phenomenon status of Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy is now entering its fourth year and kicking things off is the long awaited American adaptation of the first part, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  An impressive array of talent has been assembled for this much anticipated endeavor.  The ever reliable David Fincher is behind the camera directing a cast which includes Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, and the much touted Rooney Mara.  If you can handle one more trip through Larsons’ narrative of vengeance, disappearances and snow bound intrigue then Finchers’ adaptation should please you to know end.  If you’ve gotten worn out on Tattoo, it’s probably time to take up with something else.

Tattoo stars Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist, a Swedish journalist whose reputation has just been obliterated in court.  Blomkvist has been found guilty of slandering a crooked business tycoon in the pages of his investigative magazine, Millennium.  As he retreats to lick his professional wounds he’s approached to visit Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), a reclusive man with a 40 year mystery hanging over his aging head.  Four decades ago Henrik’s niece disappeared from the family island without trace.  Henrik challenges Blomkvist to look into the event, as well as his twisted family, and see what kind of new insight he can provide.  Hovering around all of this is Lisbeth Salander, a gothed out, tattooed, emotionally damaged and physically dangerous computer hacker/investigator who slowly becomes part of the pursuing of a serial killer whose been at large for the better part of 5 decades.

It was not going to be easy to bring Dragon Tattoo to an American multiplex with much sense of freshness or immediacy.  Being in the literary discussion for four years, as well as already being notably adapted to film in its native land, Dragon Tattoo has become the kind of property many people know at least something about without having even read a page of it.  It says something for Fincher’s adaptation that even though this will be the third variation on the same story, there’s still a lot to appreciate about the craft at hand.  Tattoo is a very watchable thriller of a very high order.  Fincher has one of the most meticulous eyes for editing and style of any director working today.  He brings his considerable amount of talent to Tattoo, and makes would could have been a rote experience an engrossing one.  Though he’s directed two other far superior thrillers within the the same genre before (Seven, Zodiac), Dragon Tattoo is nothing to scoff at.  He doesn’t shy away from the source materials edgier sequences but never does the film feel exploitative.  Though often cited as a great crafter of visuals, Fincher doesn’t always get his due for his work with actors.

Daniel Craig turns in good work as the intelligent but overwhelmed Blomkvist.  It can be difficult to swallow some leading men as less than capable, especially Craig.  He exudes such confidence and physical prowess as James Bond that buying him as an aging journalist may have backfired, but he gets away with it.  But the real show here is relative newcomer Rooney Mara.  What really elevates Larson’s potboiler out of the scores of mystery muck is his lead heroine.  Lisbeth Salander is the kind of raging, unstable protagonist not often found in the pages of a run-of-the-mill whodunit.  She endures humiliations at the hands of monsters quietly and replies with the kind of fierce retribution that gets an audiences blood going.  Mara embraces the physical exposure and emotional reclusiveness the part demands.  With so many young actresses out there unwilling to bare much of anything, it’s great to see one bare everything and feel completely believable as she does it.

While Fincher and his crew deserve no small amount of credit for delivering a very capable thriller they can’t get past certain obstacles inherent to the material.  Larson’s story is about as graceful as a three legged dog in some places.  The entire first half of Dragon Tattoo is basically made up of two competing movies which run side by side but have little to do with one another.  Our central characters don’t meet until the story is well into itself.  The mystery itself is also nothing to blow the doors off the genre either.  The Salander character has always been the overriding element which made this story something more, while the narrative driving it is serviceable boiler plate material.  It’s a whodunit.  A good whoduniot.  But not much more than a whodunit.

If The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is still fresh to you, or you still haven’t bothered to learn what all the fuss is about, Fincher’s adaptation is a great place to begin.  It’s a well crafted mystery with top tier talent contributing on all fronts.  Though two more novels lay in wait Fincher wisely gives the story a sense of conclusion which doesn’t mandate they ever be made.  I.E. you won’t be left hanging, forced to wait for a resolution in another movie.  In this day and age that is a rare commodity indeed.

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