The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Review
2011, 158 minutes
Rated R for brutal violent content including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language
David Fincher’s American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of the top 5 or 10 films I have seen all year. It follows a disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) who joins up with the troubled, bisexual computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander to solve a 40-year-old mystery. This is the second film adaptation of Steig Larsson’s best-selling novel of the same name and is the one to see. The first adaptation by Niels Arden Oplev was a very successful and very popular film that I did not care for. Though the performances were excellent, the film had little style and was like a SparkNotes version of the book. It cut many crucial/interesting portions of the book and simply skimmed through the story. It also had no character development, which led me to have no emotional attachment to the characters. Fincher’s film fixes all of these problems.
The standout aspect of this adaptation is the acting. Everyone is fantastic, but Rooney Mara’s performance is the breakout performance of the year. She embodies Salander with a frighteningly innocent look. Underneath the surface is a history of issues. Mara’s interpretation of Salander is very different from Noomi Rapace’s (from the Swedish original). Rapace played Salander with a frightening edge and brutality, whereas Mara plays her coolly and helplessly. The character of Salander is fascinating and with Mara playing her, it is the perfect combination.
Steven Zallian’s (Schindler’s List, Moneyball) screenplay is also very good as he keeps the story told in the book intact, but makes the pace quicker (the first chunk of the book was very slow), and makes the story neater which suits the material well. Though the film is very dark and bleak, he inserts some humor, which lightens the mood. The focus of this film is on the characters which suits the material very well as the characters are much more interesting than the murder mystery (the mystery is still gripping). The book’s focus was on the mystery, and that is another area where the Swedish film went wrong. The characters, especially Salander, are so interesting that I could watch them in at least another couple of movies.
David Fincher is a one-of-a-kind director. After such masterpieces as Se7en, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and The Social Network, he has crafted another and put his own stamp on the material. His movies, especially Se7en and Fight Club probe the dark parts of cities and human nature, exposing the unsavory activities. They all have a professional and polished look to them, while still keeping a certain level of grit. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, he gives the Swedish landscape a beautiful, yet haunting atmosphere. One area where he completely succeeds is that all of the settings look exactly as I imagined them.
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' (The Social Network) score is unique as always providing an electric feel. This one deserves an Oscar.
Many have complained that this version of the film did not need to be made and that if it was, the brutal sexual violence would be sanitized for American audiences. The good news is that this film absolutely has a reason to exist and is not sanitized. In fact, it is even more graphic and disturbing than the already graphic Swedish version. I can handle just about anything and have seen my fair share of disturbing and controversial material, but one horrifying scene in this film is so raw that I could barely watch it. But, I couldn’t look away. This version, as I mentioned, is more character-focused, not plot-focused. Also, this is NOT a remake of the Swedish version.
Overall, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a must-see movie, but NO ONE under 17 or 18 should be viewing this. It irks me that I can bring a five-year-old to this, but I cannot bring a five-year-old to Shame. I would much rather let a young kid see a graphic sex scene than a brutal rape scene. How this movie ever got an R-rating is beyond me. If you can handle this material, are a fan of the book, or really like a character-driven mystery, see this movie. Now let’s see what David Fincher puts out next.