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Daniel Craig, left, and Rooney Mara star in Columbia Pictures' "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo." Daniel Craig, left, and Rooney Mara star in Columbia Pictures' "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo."

Does the Very Chilly Dragon Tattoo Generate Any Sexual Heat?

With its provocative cocktail of sex and violence, David Fincher's adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has had us asking questions all year. Was the poster for the movie undermined by Rooney Mara's nudity? Was the subject matter, so popular in paperback, too tough to draw in female audiences? And what was the deal with that whole embargo imbroglio, anyway? Now that the movie's finally out in theaters, though, we can get down to the real nitty-gritty: a discussion of the actual film, and not just the hype around it. With that in mind, let's delve into some of the talking points raised by a viewing of Dragon Tattoo, and beware: spoilers will follow.

Those cold sex scenes
When it comes to the sex in Dragon Tattoo, most of the focus has understandably been on the film's two rape scenes, which Fincher has tried to leech of anything resembling titillation (as much as anything like that is possible when filming a big-screen rape scene). But also as unsexy, though not nearly to the same brutal degree, is the romantic encounter between Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth Salander and Daniel Craig’s Mikael Blomkvist. She walks into his room, takes off her bottoms and climbs atop him, and the whole thing is antiseptic, transactional, and thoroughly perfunctory, even though the two characters actually like each other quite a bit. In his review of the film, A.O. Scott noted that in these scenes it’s only Mara who has her top off, a bit of unconscious gender exploitation not at all in keeping with Fincher’s intentions in those rape sequences, but even so, these scenes are as cold as a Swedish winter: Lisbeth may have sex, but she doesn’t do passion.

The mystery is a bit thin
There is a whole lot of investigating in this movie: Mara and Craig spend nearly the entire second act rifling through files, interviewing Vangers, and putting in long hours at the library. Alas, the resolution of the mystery basically comes down to "Hey, here's a photo of someone else taking a picture. Let's ask to see that picture, then we'll probably know who the murderer is." That's it? Even Craig's eventual confrontation with the killer happens mostly through sheer bad timing, and Craig still doesn't have the case figured out until the killer turns into a loquacious Bond villain and explains the whole thing.

"Sail Away ..."
Still, can we all agree that the most inspired bit in the whole movie is when the killer puts on that Enya song before he attempts to murder Craig? The entire sequence is teetering on a Dexter-like level of absurdity -- the villain has a kill room with knockout gas, really? -- but that knowing bit of camp actually pulls things back from the brink.

Daniel Craig's glasses game
Daniel Craig’s Mikael Blomkvist wears reading glasses, but instead of taking them on and off in the standard fashion -- setting them on the table, pushing them atop his head, or latching them onto his shirt -- he’s developed a whole new technique. The glasses stay half-on and half-off, with one arm remaining hooked over an ear and the rest of the frame hanging diagonally across his face (though not in his line of sight). Things signified by this method: He’s not wasting time putting his glasses on and off because they’re always right there. He doesn’t do what everyone else does. He’s pretty cool. (This last one may be only because Daniel Craig looks pretty cool doing anything.)

The ending
The spine of Dragon Tattoo would appear to be its Vanger mystery -- it's the thing introduced in the pre-credits prologue, after all -- and yet after the movie wraps that up, it still keeps going and going as Rooney Mara is sent on an entirely new mission. While we loved her brand-new undercover outfits, we still kinda wanted to tap the movie on the shoulder to say, "Psst. You ended fifteen minutes ago." It seemed like a lot of set-up and character-maneuvering for the potential sequel, but for a movie that already runs pretty long at 158 minutes, that extra act (and its awfully mild final scene) felt a bit superfluous.

Final Observations:

  • Were you sad that The Killing's awesome Joel Kinnaman only appeared in the movie for about fifteen seconds total? Sure, he wasn't at all famous when he shot this movie, but c'mon Fincher: Game should recognize game.
  • Interesting that the ladies (Mara, Robin Wright) had no trouble adopting absolutely delightful Swedish accents, while the men (Craig, Christopher Plummer) only occasionally studded their speech with it.
  • That amazing opening credits sequence! Did David Fincher think he was making a James Bond movie all of a sudden? Although, maybe he kinda was... after all, the lead was played by Daniel Craig, he had the customary two love interests, and (as noted before) the villain was awfully Bond-like.
Photo: Merrick Morton/© 2011 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.