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This Week at the Movies

David Fincher's "The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo" is spellbinding and Cameron Crowe's "We Bought a Zoo" is charming.

David Fincher's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is less of a remake of Niels Arden Oplev's 2009 Swedish film than it is a darker reinterpretation of Stieg Larsson's novel.

This new version of the story is visually gorgeous and portrays its characters as haunted souls. I've enjoyed both film versions, which may have to do with the fact that they are so different in tone and style.

It is unlikely that I could adequately summarize the movie's plot within the confines of this review. In brief, "Dragon Tattoo" follows the story of disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), who is drawn in to the intricate web of the wealthy Vanger family, which includes a few former Nazis and a mystery involving a young girl named Harriet who went missing in 1966.

Blomkvist, whom Vanger patriarch Henrik (Christopher Plummer) admires for his investigative skills, is called upon to drum up new clues in the case.

Larsson's trilogy of novels rotates not only around Blomkvist, but also Lisbeth Salander, a surveillance agent covered in tattoos and piercings who keeps a traumatic past just below her surface.In Fincher's film, Lisbeth is played by Rooney Mara as a force of nature.

In the book and film's most harrowing scene, Lisbeth, a ward of the state, is physically and emotionally abused by her legal guardian. She later turns the tables on him in an unflichingly violent sequence.

Blomkvist and Lisbeth's sleuthing into the Vanger's missing persons case leads them to a series of sex crimes and murders from the 1940s and 1950s. Fincher's picture does a nice job of juggling the story's multiple story lines and plot twists.

Those familiar with Fincher's work, which includes "Seven," "Fight Club," "Zodiac" and "The Social Network," will realize that "Dragon Tattoo" is an obvious choice for the filmmaker. Much like his previous films, his latest focuses on alienated characters whose obsessions lead them to dark places.

Moviegoers who enjoyed Larsson's novel as well as the 2009 Swedish film may be surprised to find they are still able to be entranced by this story.

This weekend's cheerier selection is Cameron Crowe's "We Bought a Zoo," which is being advertised as a Christmas family movie with some cuddly animals, but is slightly more substantive.

Matt Damon, always good, plays a journalist who specializes in "adventure writing" that involves taking on dangerous assignments, such as flying into hurricanes. But the father of two is suffering from the recent loss of his wife and, when the opportunity arises, moves the family into a new home that just so happens to contain a zoo in need of rehabilitation.

Apparently based on a true story, "Zoo" is unabashedly sentimental. But it still resonates, most likely due to the fact that it was helmed by Crowe, whose "Almost Famous" and "Say Anything" were hopeful stories about youths that included scenes of naked emotion.

"Zoo" is certainly not among the director's best work, but it is often charming, funny and likable. Next week, check out reviews of the year's final movies - "War Horse," "Pina" and "Pariah" - and keep an eye out this week for our post on 2011's best films.

Michael Feiner December 26, 2011 at 08:21 PM
Did you see "Mission Impossible?" Entertaining!

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