The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

PhotobucketTo succinctly encapsulate this elaborate thriller is a daunting task indeed, but I’ll do my best. Crime mystery begins when retired CEO of the Vanger Corporation, Henrik Vanger, hires magazine publisher Mikael Blomkvist to probe the still unsolved death of his niece Harriet which occurred 40 years ago. Vanger is writing his memoirs and he uses that as an excuse to re-open the case that still haunts him. Blomkvist has a lot of free time on his hands. His journalism career has just been destroyed by scandal – his name all but ruined after losing a libel case regarding allegations he laid against billionaire industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerström. Blomkvist proceeds to investigate for Henrik, interviewing all the members of the Vanger clan. He’s soon aided by a withdrawn goth punk chick by the name Lisbeth Salander, a researcher and computer hacker. Labyrinthine chronicle runs 2 hours and 37 minutes and it would have to be in order to do justice to that complex narrative. It juggles a dizzying list of characters more suited to a epic novel than in a movie. Indeed there are even multiple endings as the developments tie up all the loose story threads.

What actually elevates Fincher’s remake is visual style. Every scene conveys the auteur’s stunning technique, without exception. Each carefully composed shot from where the actors stand to how a table is arranged is never an afterthought. The cinematography is luxurious and elevates the novel’s pulp fiction roots. Let’s be honest, the source novel is kind of trashy. Henrik Vanger’s isolated mansion, the clean interior of his great-nephew’s domicile, those cold Swedish winters, even the goth punk fashion of our titular character all seem to bear the mark of the director’s artistic vision. The mood is decidedly bleak and the cold harsh atmosphere, brilliantly supports this dark tale. The music score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is fittingly ominous. Karen O’s booming cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” deserves a special mention. It plays over an attention grabbing opening credits that is the singular most arresting short that I witnessed all year. I still don’t even know how to describe what I saw. It’s a mass of black oil covering human bodies with technological and biological images that foreshadow what is to happen. After Se7en and Fight Club, David Fincher is clearly the current master of the title sequence.

Anyone who thinks the Hollywood interpretation would pull back from depicting the more shocking details of the book is grossly mistaken as director David Fincher only intensifies the depravity. Sexual violence against women is a recurring theme and the plot is underscored with lurid details. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo earns every bit of its hard R rating. At one point our protagonist Lisbeth starts recounting all of the heinous murders committed by the perpetrator and Mikael Blomkvist has to tell her to stop. “But I’m not done yet” she says. This is the grim David Fincher we know from Se7en. But where that mid 90s masterpiece of modern horror dramatically used shocks that felt intrinsic to the storyline, the shocks here feel exploitative. Witness one act of retribution where the audience is actually encouraged to cheer our heroine on while she takes revenge on her rapist in brutal fashion. It’s that dark foreboding sense of dread that can draw us in, but it can also repel.

Based on the Swedish book published by Stieg Larsson in 2005. The literary best seller has already been the source of one adaptation in 2009. This American remake, while technically superior, adds little in the way of improvements to the overly complicated unfolding of events that also marred the Swedish version. It all begs the question was the remake really necessary? The answer is yes if you’re trying to cater to audiences who resist seeing a foreign film with English subtitles, but no if the point was to significantly improve upon the original. Fincher’s adaptation doesn’t, but it does match the 2009 version for drama. As the details build, the events become simply too engrossing to dismiss. Despite the extreme length, I was riveted the whole time. The two leads are a big reason why. Rooney Mara makes an engrossing Lisbeth Salander. She reveals vulnerabilities in the character that weren’t evident in Noomi Rapace’s much harder character and Daniel Craig is a more charismatic Mikael Bloomkbnist.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo may not be up to the brilliance of Fincher’s greatest works. But it is an above average thriller and a lesser work by David Fincher is still pretty worthwhile.

13 Responses to “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”

  1. I was thinking of reading the book; absolutely no desire to see any of the films. Great review.


  2. My second favorite film of the year seen finally this morning with THE ARTIST as a chaser (another masterpiece). Sorry if it was any sort of letdown for you but it pulled me in and never let go from the opening titles on (admittedly, the pre-title scene intrigues without gripping)


    • I’m a little shocked that as someone who liked the original, you found enough new stuff here to call it your second best film of the year. It doesn’t offer any surprises for someone who has seen the previous version. I liked it better than the original too, but having seen the Swedish version, it took away from the excitement of what would happen next. I kept anticipating some sort of innovation which never came.


  3. This is the 2011 movie I’m looking forward to the most. It opens here January 20, so I’ll have to wait ANOTHER month. I loved the book on which it is based (so, kinda surprised when you called one of my favorite books “trashy” haha) and I also loved the Swedish adaptation.


  4. nice review …


  5. While our scores are almost identical, I had some very different responses to the film. I’m most surprised by your perception that Fincher really uses the full extent of his thrill-and-chill inducing powers here. I found his touch strangely restrained and the 2009 original MUCH more intense, particularly in the rape sequence.

    Who was your favorite Salander? I’m getting the sense that you were closer to Mara in the end.


    • I am torn because I saw Noomi Rapace in the role first so she defined it for me, but I’ll give the slight edge to Rooney Mara. She displayed vulnerabilities in the character I didn’t see in Rapace’s interpretation. She also looked just like Rebecca De Mornay when she did her quick change at the end so she gets bonus points for that.

      I was surprised at the level to which Fincher copied the original. I question why it needed to be remade. The main difference was his visual style. His version seems much more polished. It should, it cost a lot more. From what I remember, the rape scenes were pretty unbearable in both. Lisbeth’s retaliation, though, seemed more graphic in the remake.


  6. I never saw the original or read the book so I didn’t know what to expect. It started a little slow. but once it got started, it was amazing. I was captivated every minute of the 2+ hours. Great movie.


  7. I’m at least halfway through the book now and I’m DYING to watch the movie (the American version especially).


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