“He gives her cunnilingus and in my opinion, not enough.”  So says Rooney Mara in the opening of the eight minutes David Fincher showed to lucky crowds in front of select screenings of Straw Dogs tonight.  After nearly a year of films that focus on story without paying much attention to the images, Fincher’s palette blooms like distant heat lightning on a desert horizon; it can be no other director.  With every film he grows as a visual storyteller.   I can say with certainty that I’ve never seen anything like this.  Something savage has been unleashed in the star, Rooney Mara.  At their finest, Fincher’s films work best when he has a star who can absorb and thrive on the hardcore focus he dishes out.  Jesse Eisenberg did it.  Jake Gyllenhaal did it.  And now Rooney Mara does it.

Her intensity, in fact, could very well earn her an Oscar nomination.  After all, hers will be the performance people will talk about as not only unique among the others but the darkest and most uncompromising, as well.  Fincher has emphatically given women, at last, a truly self-reliant heroine — someone who doesn’t need to be pretty or polite or nice or likable.   What this eight minutes did was affirm two things I already figured: 1) David Fincher wouldn’t waste a single frame but ensure everything we see is thoughtfully composed, beautifully lit, breathtaking in scope.  2) Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross would deliver once again on their symbiotic relationship with Fincher, setting the pace, controlling the tone, pulling us into this world the same way they did on The Social Network.

But the one thing none of us could know until now was whether Rooney Mara could pull it off.  In the footage I saw tonight she nails it.  She surpasses my own expectations of what she can do with this character. With her fury unleashed its thrilling to see such a kick-ass feminist hero who suffers no fools and takes no prisoners.  She probably can’t win for a role like this but believe me, she’s going to be seriously considered.  She still has to go up against Glenn Close and possibly Viola Davis, not to mention Meryl Streep, each delivering different variations of the fervent feminist ideal.

The Fincher team players are on board, too, which could be part of the reason these teasing eight minutes leave you begging for more — editors Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter, and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth.

The footage we saw jumps around in the narrative.  Some shots feature Daniel Craig stalking the serial killer, jump-cut together with Mara — pierced and fierce – making out with other women.   Eventually she and Daniel Craig will pair up to hunt the villain.  Densely colored, with the kind of acrid gloom Fincher has mastered throughout his career, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo  is not aiming for Oscar.  For that I’ll be eternally grateful.  It’s aiming to be a great film and so far it looks well on its way.  It certainly won’t need a gold statue to validate that greatness.  As if one ever could.

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(original SD clip)