The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) Review

Lisbeth Salander, here played by Rooney Mara, is a film character scholars will dissect for eternity. Whether it’s the source novels, the screen adaptation(s), or the performance, the quirks and sometimes unspecified background create genuine intrigue into her brilliance.

A social outcast and some would say deviant misfit at a glance, Lisbeth has no sense of her place or the people around her. She doesn’t even ask permission before acting, unless of course she’s in a situation to kill somebody. Yet, tied to a computer or decades worth of paperwork, she’s attentive and involved. Her personal life is the least interesting thing in the world to her.

For Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), she’s a polar opposite. A quiet, oft reserved and in control journalist whom even after being battered by the courts in a libel case, doesn’t show emotion. Lisbeth makes a room uncomfortable with a roll of the eyes.

Part of that is knowing what she’s capable of, a rightfully vengeful woman who takes the idea of an “eye for an eye” as literal as it can be. David Fincher’s direction and style turn what you don’t see into the unnerving. Imagine if you will the infamous “ankle break” scene from Misery without physically seeing the shattering of bone, and replace it with a heinous, reprehensible sexual act. All you have is sound, and even that’s more than you would want.

Dragon Tattoo is respectful of audience intelligence and maturity, arguably one of the hardest, most vicious R-ratings the MPAA has ever handed out. It makes their smoking descriptor seem like an in-joke. From grisly crime scene photos to heavy, nudity-laden sex, nothing here is discreet.

It’s better for it, generating a stronger, deeper sense of character mentalities, crucial to this winding murder mystery. Set within a small island Swedish town, a broken, shattered family remains rattled decades on from a disappearance of one of their own, although the members are split as to the modern day relevance. Broken bonds, disciplines, and ideals keep them locked in their own homes, speaking with Blomkvist individually about the events when asked, never together.

Hired as an investigator under the pretext of ulterior motives, Blomkvist becomes involved, even if it’s only for his personal gain. His career carries his character, important enough to forge ahead despite his life being threatened and a failed murder attempt. That, or Lisbeth entering his life renewed his passion, and not just for the case at hand.

It’s understandable to lose elements of Dragon Tattoo, or come away confused with the material. Thick, wildly divergent dialects and accents flood a film already overflowing its banks with characters. Mercifully, they stay local, that frigid Swedish land containing enough visual presence. It grounds the film, making it digestible if no less unnerving.

Movie ★★★★☆ 

David Fincher’s penchant for digital filmmaking continues here with a dimly lit and temperature-specific piece. Interiors are warmed with heavy orange saturation, those freezing exteriors blowing out with whites and blues. Flesh tones follow the Celsius count. Rare moments wherein other primaries are allowed room to show are deliberately toned down as to not make themselves apparent. The visual style is dry at best, but certainly with clear intentions.

Swerving to miss noticeable crush, black levels maintain the integrity of those mildly lit interiors, mood coming first, light second. Structurally sound, blacks have a weighty, hearty feel that dominate the image naturally. It adds depth or even tension, best expressed during a slow, methodical walk through a home as Craig searches for clues. Hallways feel lengthened and shadows seem to be hiding potential dangers.

Oddly, a series of flashbacks take a different approach, ditching the blacks for an odd, even distracting blue. It feels as if it’s glowing, the semi-sepia tinted approach is meant to invoke a vintage feel, although what the deep, almost neon blue is supposed to replicate isn’t exactly clear.

Employing the 4K capable Red series, Dragon Tattoo has classy, sharp replication of high-fidelity detail, particularly in close. Facial definition is superb, and better yet, consistent. Drama and tension are brought out from the actor’s faces, a genuine intensity necessary to the success of the moment. Medium shots will often appear too smoothed over, distracting considering the display of fine detail elsewhere. A handful of outstanding exteriors, resolving some exquisite greenery, make it out to be a wash.

The careful hands of Sony eliminate any noticeable encode problems, the clarity of the digital source rarely creating complicated material that would be difficult for compression. A scattering of noise is nigh undetectable in motion, and as a result, barely warranted a mention here.

Video ★★★★☆ 

It’s hard to recall a Fincher-directed film without a “top in its class” audio design, the DTS-HD masterpiece residing here no different. It’s stunning what audio can do, or bring to a film if you will, when it’s mixed this carefully. The effect on Dragon Tattoo is immediate as Craig walks from a quiet office interior to just outside the doors. There, city and traffic noise swarms the surrounds, and a police car -with sirens blaring- pans to the sides in the rears.

Sweden’s stormy winds are captured with a heightened intensity, selling the effect not only as characters march around outdoors, but indoors. Craig, covered in multiple blankets and burning books to stay warm, is still battered by the elements which ricochet off his cabin in the positional channels. A single gunshot becomes brilliantly imprecise on purpose, never identifying the attempted killer’s location, merely echoing the round fired in the rears and spreading it out.

More direct methods include a booming club sequence with Mara drowning in bass, a brief subway chase with ambiance amplified over everything else, and a hearty explosion late that begins to rumble the LFE. Subtle or not, Dragon Tattoo’s audio is perfection.

Audio ★★★★★ 

David Fincher stands alone on the first disc, offering a commentary track that initially seems limiting. Then disc two happens.

In total, there are 34 pieces of content here, pieced together in four sections. It begins with the characters, each piece focusing on a few actors, their methods, and their roles. Together, this string of generally short snippets (including test footage) near 80-minutes.

Pieces focusing on the location shoot cover the conditions and the crucial importance of shooting in Sweden. Interior sets are given their due here as well, coming in a little over 90-minutes in all. Another half hour completes the series with post-production, including the editing process and ADR sessions. Finally, a promotional option brings in a look at the poster creation, stills, and a viral video.

Extras ★★★★★