Coming in pretty close on the heels of the original Swedish adaptations of Stieg Larsson's novels, which hit American screens in 2010 and introduced audiences to the talents of Noomi Rapace, one can't help but compare David Fincher's English-speaking version to it. Surprisingly, his dark, gothic vision of a 40-year-old murder mystery is just different enough that a comparison would arguably be unfair. Although I would give Niels Arden Oplev's demanding crime drama the slight edge, especially for placing much attention on unraveling such an engaging puzzle, Fincher at least makes the plot his own with a sinister flair that is certainly matchless. The way Fincher paints it, this 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' is a superb mastery of craftsmanship where style and elegance supersede substance.
And this is in no way a bad thing. Indeed, it's quite lovely in a weird, twisted sort of way. Fincher openly embraces the gloomy overtones of Larsson's first novel in the Millennium trilogy and the morbidly violent desires in the hearts of his wicked male characters. The men in this story are capable of very gruesome things, replacing respect for women with perverse, deep-seated hatred. The 158-minute film, which is not as exhausting as it sounds, kicks off with an incredibly engrossing opening sequence that functions like a music video. The strange, somewhat-disturbing images have seemingly little to do with the movie, but they perfectly set the grim stage Fincher wants his audience to be immersed in. Right from the start, this is about the filmmaker sucking us into the world of evildoers, much like our pair of heroes will have to in order to solve the mystery.
Working from a script by Steve Zaillian, who's also had a hand in adapting 'Schindler's List,' 'Moneyball' and 'All the King's Men,' Fincher touches on some of Larsson's political sentiments veiled just beneath the surface. Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is an independent investigative journalist with an interest in uncovering capitalist greed within the corporate business of finance. After losing a libel case against a billionaire industrialist, he has the opportunity to redeem himself, not necessarily in the eyes of the public but more, it would seem, to assure himself of his dedication for probing and revealing suspicious activity. He's invited by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), another wealthy capitalist, to help in the cold case of his great-niece, Harriet, who is believed to have been murdered nearly 40 years earlier.
During his investigation, Blomkvist reveals the several layers and secrets of the Vanger family. Their history, with embarrassing connections to the Nazi Party movement of 1930s Sweden, is riddled with anger and bitter distrust between members, allowing money and business to interfere with familial blood. His research also uncovers some unsettling acts of abuse which eventually end up relating to the larger mystery at hand. I must say I rather like this Blomkvist, which is not to say that Michael Nyqvist did anything wrong, but in the hands of Craig, the journalist is a man to admire although he often appears a bit detached from certain events surrounding him. His distance makes him seem tougher and more alert. He's not all that surprised by some of the villainy within the family, which adds to the film's final reveal because he's actually shocked and terrified he didn't see it sooner.
When it comes to Blomkvist's research partner — the unparalleled, inflexible and headstrong Lisbeth Salander — the conversation could be a bit more contentious. Without a second thought, Rapace's performance perfectly epitomizes the character as she's presented in the novel. She may look petite with the outward appearance of a social outcast and miscreant, but she comes with a violent and ferocious bite when provoked, hiding deep within a woman emotionally damaged by a society that takes advantage of the weak at every turn. Rooney Mara's portrayal of the young, highly-intelligent computer hacker, on the other hand, comes off more fragile than expected. That fierce and unruly aspect to the character's behavior is still present, but Mara brings a frail, breakable attribute to the personality that's visible on the surface, which is not the Lisbeth I imagine from the novel. Preference for Rapace's version aside, Mara is wonderful in the role, making it her own and one which proudly augments the overall film.
David Fincher's take of Stieg Larsson's 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' is an absorbing, beautifully-crafted motion picture, one with a daunting and somewhat challenging murder mystery at its center. It's a fascinating and involving film with bleak, gothic overtones, uncovering and exploring with an unflinching eye the dark, disturbing secrets of evil men. The narrative, which sheds light on the criminal past of a wealthy and powerful industrial family as an ever-growing presence, impressively moves like a ghostly apparition which haunts our imagination long after the crime has been solved. If you've never watched the original Swedish adaptation, then you're in for an electrifying treat. If you're a fan of the Millennium Series and the novels, Fincher's 'Dragon Tattoo' is just different enough to hypnotize and suck you back into the mystery.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings David Fincher's 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' to Blu-ray in a beautiful and elegant three-disc set. Similar in design to the high-def release of 'The Social Network,' a simple cardboard sleeve with stylish artwork of the film's two protagonists hides a foldout case with clear plastic panels. On both sides of this case are two profile pictures in medium close-up of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist as if standing in freezing weather.
The case houses all three with the first being a Region A-locked, BD50 disc on a panel all to itself. A second BD50 disc contains all supplemental material and rests comfortable above a DVD-9 copy of the film. The DVD is made to look like a DVD-R and the film's title appears handwritten as if with a Sharpie. Included with the package are instructions and code for accessing an UltraViolet digital copy. At startup, the disc goes straight to the main menu with music while a series of snapshots from the Vanger family album change every few seconds.
Shot with a combination of HD cameras (Red One MX and Red Epic), Fincher's 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' debuts on Blu-ray with a spectacular and practically flawless 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.40:1) that will undoubtedly leave fans very happy.
The digital-to-digital transfer, which for anyone interested takes up nearly 49GB of real estate on a dual-layered BD50 disc, is razor-sharp with incredible clarity into the far-distance. In spite of the naturally dark, heavily-stylized photography of Jeff Cronenweth ('Fight Club,' 'The Social Network'), the picture is beautifully revealing with deep, penetrating blacks in every frame. Shadows are not always to my liking, particularly when characters are conversing near firelight, but they are true and accurate to natural, indoor lighting. Fine object details remain visible and distinct during these same scenes, giving viewers plenty to look at in the background and inside the homes of the Vanger family. Flesh tones are appropriate to the Swedish climate, exposing lifelike texture in facial complexions.
The palette is mostly drained of color throughout with a noticeable gray-bluish tint, matching the film's overall look to the sinister and grim subject matter. Primaries don't seem terribly affected by the deliberate cinematography, appearing quite vibrant as spring approaches within the narrative. Flashbacks sequences show an amber-brown hue to make them feel more antiquated and interestingly corresponding with Martin's house. The rest of the video shows pitch-perfect, reference-level contrast with superbly brilliant whites from beginning to end, making this a lovely high-def presentation of a grim film.
Fincher's latest crime drama also arrives with an amazing but artfully employed DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, which marvelously draws viewers into the mystery with its silence. Although not exactly the type that would compare to more action-oriented flicks, the design makes startling use of the system with very subtle, faint effects in the rears which often feel distant. These small moments are used creatively to enhance the island's isolation while also making the immediate Vanger property seem scarily remote and practically lifeless. Because of this, the stillness of quieter scenes is made more apparent. The understated and haunting score of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross extend the soundfield brilliantly, enveloping the listeners with music that darkly evocative and creepily moving.
The front soundstage displays the rest of the lossless mix with a spacious imaging and excellent channel separation. A couple words from Mara's Lisbeth Salander are a tad difficult to make out, but for the most part, dialogue reproduction is precise and splendidly intelligible. Dynamics are clean and sharply rendered, with exceptional clarity detail in the few action sequences and appreciable acoustics during the several indoor conversations. There aren't many notably examples of low-frequency effects, but in scenes requiring them, bass is fairly deep and appropriately responsive.
Darkly subtle as it is, the high-rez soundtrack is an absolute joy to listen and matches perfectly with the video presentation.
As far as we can gather, Sony is really pushing the Blu-ray version of 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' since the DVD has only one supplement.
David Fincher's 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' is a beautifully-crafted motion picture with a challenging murder mystery at its center. Fincher openly embraces the dark overtones of Stieg Larsson's novel and turns it into his own gothic vision of the morbid, violent desires within the hearts of wicked men. Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara provide excellent performances as Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, making this English-speaking version a surprisingly wonderful adaptation of the first book in the Millennium series. The Blu-ray debuts with a near-reference picture quality and a first-rate audio presentation that perfectly complements the film's subject matter. The wealth of supplements is a marvelous addition to the release and practically exclusive to the high-def format. Fans of the original novel trilogy should be pleased with this take, and Fincher devotees can chalk up another win for the filmmaker.