The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) Movie Review

the girl with the dragon tattoo

Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Year: 2011
Genre: Crime/Drama/Mystery
Play time: 2h 38min
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer

If the source material for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo holds any interest at all, it’s because of the titular girl: abandoned, beaten down, raped, an outcast; yet brilliant and fearless, calling the bluff of charming rogue heroes everywhere. Because let’s face it: the male lead, disgraced investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist, is largely a dullard, and the mystery he has to solve, unraveling the secrets of Swedish aristocracy to find the killer of an innocent girl who vanished decades ago, is almost totally uninvolving. It’s Lisbeth Salander, pierced, inked, and brooding, who commands attention. That Steig Larsson’s story more or less sidelines her is unforgivable.

The Latest Edition of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) in The Safe Hands of David Fincher

David Fincher, the great American filmmaker who was handed the English-language adaptation of the first of Larsson’s megahit books, understands this – and that’s one of the reasons his version of Dragon Tattoo works so well. Though there’s only so much he can do with Larsson’s awkward story construction and clumsy pacing, Fincher fights for Lisbeth. Against the screenplay’s will, he drags in her point of view immediately after a brief and moody cold open, with a spectacular opening credits sequence that seems to plunge us into the depths of her dark, abused psyche. Dutifully inter-cutting bits of her backstory with the main mystery plot that doesn’t involve her until the second act, he works with actress Rooney Mara to give Lisbeth a wounded vulnerability that lurks just under and amplifies her vicious, steely coldness. When she takes her revenge on the state-appointed guardian who raped her, hers is not the cold-blooded torture that Noomi Rapace’s Lisbeth exacted in the Swedish version of the film.  What she does emerges from a lifetime of hurt and fear and a desperate need for safety. Fincher is smart enough to know that this makes her no less fearsome.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Sense of Humor, Great Soundtrack & Beautiful

The mystery, though still kind of boring, also benefits from Fincher’s determined, meticulous commitment to his craft. Scenes of tedious, narrated flashback exposition become lovely, flowing montages that concisely convey undercurrents of nostalgia and regret along with information. The soundtrack, by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who worked with Fincher on the incredible The Social Network), whirrs and buzzes and turns entire sequences into tone poems of terror and menace. (At one particularly thorny point, Fincher mixes the score with the insistent sound of someone using a floor buffer outside, to deeply unsettling effect.) And Fincher whips the climactic scenes, so absurdly sensationalistic in the Swedish film, into crisp, efficient shape – no one seems to do anything more than the story and characters dictate at that moment.

The film is grim but not poker-faced; it has a sense of humor, as in the wonderful scene when Mikael and Lisbeth meet for the first time, with him booting her one-night stand out of her apartment. Nor does it confuse figurative darkness with the literal kind. Shot by Jeff Cronenweth,  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo isn’t grey or murky, it’s beautiful, with Fincher’s trademark yellows and browns popping off the screen, and the snow-swept outdoors taking on the eerie quality of an alien landscape.

The Best Version Yet – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Though she competes against the likes of Daniel Craig (as Blomkvist), Christopher Plummer (as Blomkvist’s apparently kind-hearted employer), and Stellan Skarsgard, and has to speak with a vague Scandinavian accent (the film still takes place in Sweden, but everyone speaks variously accented English; it’s actually quite weird), Rooney Mara owns the film. It’s a spectacular performance, at once offputting and open-hearted; we know Lisbeth and instinctively like her despite the many obstacles the screenplay places in the path to that response. And Fincher, along with his screenwriter Steven Zaillian, finds the perfect grace note on which to end the film, at once tough and tender and impossibly sad. It’s one of the many ways he transcends fairly banal material to make what is probably the best possible movie version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Movie geek and tv show lover. Favorite genres: sci-fi, action, crime. Fan of trilogies.

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