It was our fault for underestimating David Fincher.
Honestly, though, we weren't the only ones going, "Wait, really?" when the Oscar-nominated helmer (who got straight-up robbed by the Academy last year in the Best Director category) cast his sweet, dimpled, couldn't-even-really-intimidate-a-tech-nerd "Social Network" actress Rooney Mara as hard-edge hacker Lisbeth Salander in his adaptation of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."
Then, this past January, we got our first look at Mara in character: She was Salander. And we were wrong, wrong, wrong. How do you say "mea culpa" in Swedish?
Maybe like this: "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is MTV's Best Movie of 2011!
The movie hasn't even hit theaters yet (that'll happen on December 20), but trust our panel of experts on this one, OK? For all the sizzling cool of "Drive" and all the 3-D majesty of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2," you won't see a film all year that holds you — that'll haunt you — like "Dragon Tattoo."
Based on Stieg Larsson's international best-selling crime thriller (you know, the one half the people in any subway car in any city in the world are reading at any given moment), Fincher's film followed up on the Swedish original, a critical and fan fave in its own right. What these three fictional treatments have in common, of course, is the story: Mikael Blomkvist, a disgraced journalist, is hired to investigate a decades-old missing-persons case. He convinces Salander, a motorcycle-driving ward of the state who's not adverse to violent confrontations with anyone who crosses her, to assist in the search.
Where Fincher separates and ultimately distinguishes his picture, then, is not in plot particulars (though he and writer Steven Zaillian do take a few liberties, especially with the ending), but in how he unfurls the story. Moviegoers might never need to travel to Sweden after watching his "Dragon Tattoo," so fully does Fincher immerse viewers in an atmosphere of foggy Nordic islands and gritty Stockholm back alleys. There's really no sense arguing: David Fincher is the finest working director in Hollywood.
He's also one hell of a casting director. There could be no other English-language choice for Blomkvist than Daniel Craig. Fincher fought for Mara against the wishes of his studio, even as A-listers like Scarlett Johansson competed for the role. To say Mara transformed herself to play Salander doesn't quite capture the enormity of what the actress pulled off — butchering her hair, piercing her body, shedding weight, picking up a Swedish accent and almost re-sequencing her DNA to create the character. We'd say she came as close to becoming Salander as anyone born outside of Scandinavia could possibly be, if we hadn't already seen Noomi Rapace's impressive performance in the Swedish original and been sure Mara's is the more absorbing portrayal.
"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is by no means a prefect film. It drags at times. It's probably confusing to anyone who hasn't read the book and committed the names of the huge cast of characters to memory. The ending, regardless of Fincher's tweaks, remains a letdown. But these are quibbles. Let the Oscars and Globes anoint a silent black-and-white film as their favorite of the year. MTV knows "Dragon Tattoo" is the Best Movie of 2011.
See for yourself on December 20.
Check out everything we've got on "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."
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