Dir. by David Fincher - 2 hrs. 38 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
First things first, I haven't read the books, nor have I seen any of the three Swedish movies based on Steig Larsson's books. This movie, directed by David Fincher, is my introduction to the material. So there won't be any hand-wringing whatsoever about how this movie relates to the source material, although I've heard it's pretty faithful. So, if you're like me and have had your head in a hole regarding this material (deliberately - I may eventually read the books, but I wasn't going to get that done prior to seeing this movie), let's have a quick introduction.
There are initially two storylines. The first involves a disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), who has just been found guilty of libel against a businessman. The second surrounds the girl who investigates Mikael for a background check on behalf of another wealthy businessman, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). The background check on Mikael is for what is publicly purported to be working on the memoir of Henrik Vanger, but is in actuality at attempt to figure out what happened to his niece, Harriet, who was murdered forty years prior. Lisbeth and Mikael end up working together on the case. Going into more detail of the plot seems unnecessary, and would ruin a lot of the movie.
There is a lot to praise about the movie. The plot is somewhat complicated, but not confusing, and all the characters are distinct and have their own motivations. And while it seems weird to call a movie that's more than two and a half hours long taut, it's an apt description. There's a great tension to the story, and no real lulls to hamper that. It's a tense movie punctuated by moments of real violence, and I found myself unprepared for those moments. That's not a condemnation, either. Rather than using violence as nothing more than fodder for entertainment, these events are consequential, and have emotional weight. For instance (and in vague terms), the story between Lisbeth and her guardian Nils Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen) leads to consequences that are horrific, well-earned, and shocking. That combination of traits is consistent throughout the movie.
The acting is also uniformly excellent, particularly Rooney Mara's portrayal of Lisbeth. She's distinct and believable playing a character that would be easy to overplay. Instead of trying to convince everyone she's insane in a showy manner, she just does insane things in a way that makes you believe that she thinks what she's doing is normal. That leads to a very explosive, dangerous character, in terms of the story. I wouldn't want to slight the other actors, but much of the success of this material rests on Mara's shoulders, and she delivers.
For me, the entire movie just works. Even though I was in a crowded theatre (there were 48 people in a room that had 51 seats), and even though this is a long film, I was never uncomfortable or bored. My attention never wandered, and I was never distracted. Those are barometers I use to judge how much I enjoy a film, especially when the run-time starts veering towards "Spartacus" levels. Even more to the point, I'm completely looking forward to seeing another installment, and I wasn't even a fan going in. This is one of the strongest mainstream films of the year.
4 / 5 - Theatre