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Movie Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo starts off with an astonishing credit sequence consisting of oil, body parts, contorted faces and a unique cover version of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” blasting on the soundtrack. This seems to be director David Fincher making a bold statement that this is the new (and improved?) version of a much loved original trilogy of intricate and often brutally violent novels and movies.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo 2011 movie reviewBut lest we forget that the late Stieg Larsson’s lauded series of books has already been adapted for film (or TV which was then edited for film) in its native Sweden, starring Michael Nyqvist as disgraced reporter Mikael Blomkvist and Noomi Rapace as the eponymous tattooed girl, Lisbeth Salander, a punkish and methodical hacker who teams up with Mikael to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a girl 40 years prior.

You’d think, then, that Fincher and screenwriter Steve Zaillian (Moneyball) would somehow justify a remake – and it is essentially a remake at the end of the day, much as some might try to convince you otherwise – by doing something different with the material. But alas this plays like a “copy, past, translate” exercise, a way for English language audiences who don’t want to read subtitles to enjoy this complex story.

Without trying to sound too harsh, Fincher’s version feels all too by-the-numbers even in spite of its most brutal of moments. A couple of scenes in particular involving – as it often does with the controversial stuff – sexual violence are indeed extremely tough to watch.. but they were in the original film, too. This film doesn’t really do anything to massively improve on what was originally there and certainly still maintains some of the baggy plot issues of what was a far from perfect (but still arguably superior) original. Retreading old ground doesn’t suit Fincher at all (I can just hear the jokes about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button being like Forrest Gump already…).

Stepping into the two lead roles are Daniel Craig and relative newcomer Rooney Mara. Apart from a distinct and peculiar lack of Swedish accent that makes him stand out from everyone else, Craig is perfectly fine in a fairly difficult role – perhaps most of all its his quite striking resemblance to Nyqvist that makes him seem perfect for it. But by taking up one of the most iconic female literary and cinematic roles of the last 10 years, all eyes are firmly on Mara as the incomparable Lisbeth. She undoubtedly nails the role, completely committing to something that requires her to act in some pretty full-on scenes and ultimately doing an amazing job of embodying the character by capturing all the nuances and mannerisms needed. But therein lies another issue; Rapace did the exact same thing with her portrayal of the character and thus Mara’s is so similar that it again adds to that feeling of “been there, done that.”

Fincher has once again enlisted the talents of Oscar-winning Social Network composing team Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Their score here is one of the best aspects of the film, harsh and bold when it needs to be but can still pull back to subtle and even – as strange as it may be to say considering the overall nature of the film – cute in places. I really look forward to what this musical duo go on to do in future movies, by Fincher and otherwise.

At a whopping 158 minutes (only Benjamin Button beats it as his longest film) Dragon Tattoo is testing. Although this is a complex story filled with a ton of key characters, it does feel far too long. The original Swedish film is not that far off this one’s length either but somehow that one felt tighter while Fincher’s feels like its outstays its welcome after about the 120-130 minute mark. It doesn’t have the detail-laden intricacy of Zodiac nor the life-spanning sweeping nature of Benjamin Button to justify its extensive runtime.

Perhaps all this is being harsher on Fincher’s latest effort than it truly deserves. This is unquestionably a well made film, visually stylish and very well acted, particularly by Mara in one of the most difficult female roles in literally years. It’s David Fincher we’re talking about here, of course it’s worth seeing and those who go in blind to the material may enjoy it a hell of a lot more than established fans. But this isn’t a new version of a little known book, the source material is a trilogy world-wide best sellers and a series of internationally successful Swedish movies. It’s not unfair, in fact inevitable, that it will be compared. In the end Fincher’s film makes all the points it needs to except for one; the point of why it was even made in the first place.

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About Ross Miller

  • Igor

    I really enjoyed the Swedish version of this movie, and I’m not going to rush to see the English version (but I WILL watch it in a few months). I may even reprise the Swedish production.

    I’m surprised to see the misogynist and Nazi aspects of the book skipped over so often in the reviews. After all, that’s really what the book is about: that nasty little knot of Nazis that still exists in Sweden after all these years, and which has become more dangerous as people gloss over Swedish naziism during WW2.

  • True, but it also leaves out most of the concentration on the fact that Lisbeth is an absolute expert hacker – much less of us actually seeing her in “hacker mode.”

  • WH

    The reviewer fails to note that the Fincher version presents us with a more complete picture of Lisbeth Salander. The scenes with her caring for Polmgren and the final poignant scene of her throwing away the special Christmas gift she had bought for M.B. show us the sensitive person who has to hide beneath an armored exterior. This side of Lisbeth is missing from the Swedish movie.