Monday, March 19, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Crime, Drama, Mystery, 158 minutes
Directed by David Fincher
Starring Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara and Christopher Plummer

I remember the hype when Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy first became popular, so I was a bit surprised to see David Fincher's version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo perform somewhat badly in theaters. Did it underperform because the 2009 Swedish version satisfied people's desire to see the series on the big screen, or are people just tired of the whole thing?

Before I talk about the movie, I have to mention the opening title sequence. It's just stunning. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross adapt Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song and give it a more modern feel. It perfectly sets the mood for what is to come.

The story initially focuses on journalist Michael Blomkvist (Craig). We see him lose a libel case and most of his money in the process. He receives an offer from Henrik Vanger (Plummer) who offers to double his salary if he'll investigate who killed his granddaughter, Harriet. Blomkvist feels that he can't do the work alone and so he enlists the help of Lisbeth Salander (Mara), who was hired by one of Vanger's employees to investigate Blomkvist before the offer was made.

It's here that the movie differs from the usual offerings within the crime investigation genre. The reason is Salander. She's easily the most interesting character in the story and is highly unconventional. She's considered unstable and perhaps insane and is monitored by a legal guardian. She's covered in piercings and tattoos and refuses to display any social skills whatsoever. Salander is deeply troubled and extremely hard to like when we first meet her.

The movie isn't for everyone. It features a rape scene and another in which Salander is forced to perform sexual favors. Other scenes show torture, a dismembered animal and unpleasant photographs of murdered women.

The story itself is a fairly straightforward search for the person who killed Harriet. We quickly learn that she wasn't the only victim. Salander has an eidetic memory and a gift for hacking into people's computers, while Blomkvist investigates in a more conventional way. They actually make a good team.

The suspects are the other members of Henrik Vanger's extended family, so that's where the investigation begins. The running time is a little over two-and-a-half hours and it does lack momentum at times, but it was gripping enough to hold my interest throughout. Don't expect a huge amount of action, although the final act does include a few thrills.

Many will compare Fincher's version to the Swedish version released in 2009. I own both and the difference between the two is minimal. There's slightly more urgency to the original version and it seems raw in comparison to Fincher's polished version. It's tricky buying into certain characters when the actor is known for other roles, and Craig's presence will remind most viewers of his role as James Bond. Indeed, he takes some events in stride as though they happen to him every day.

The movie's appearance is somewhat bleak. The wintry scenes consist of a muted color palette with blacks, whites and grays dominating. The Blu-ray looks and sounds wonderful, and it's apparent that this version had a much bigger budget than the Swedish version.

If you are a fan of the books, you'll likely be very happy with Fincher's adaptation. Mara was convincing as Salander and it's good to see how her character develops throughout the movie. She's slow to trust anyone, and that's understandable given what we know about her life and recent experiences. When someone does earn her trust, she's loyal and is somebody that you would want to be on your side.

I enjoyed this first installment of the Millennium Trilogy, but it could have been better. Although box office numbers were mediocre at best, I think we'll eventually see the other two installments. Will Fincher direct? That remains to be seen.

Overall score 4/5

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  1. Great review, Steve! I'm a big fan of the story (the book, the original Swedish adaptation and the American one). I agree with you that this is an enjoyable movie but could've been better. Mara was amazing, though. Just as Noomi Rapace. Two different interpretations of the same character. Craig was a better Blomkvist. All in all, I think I prefer Fincher's touch.

  2. I know most of my friends will prefer Fincher's version because they don't like subtitles. I haven't read the books, but like both movie adaptations.

  3. As someone who's only seen Fincher's version (having never read the books & also despite owning the original on DVD) I must admit I really like this movie. It was everything that I could have hoped for from something directed by him. The story was very compelling and despite the film having such a long run time I was engrossed the whole way.

    I do intend to both watch the original film and read the book at some point, I have a feeling though that seeing this version first will make me sway towards this as my 'favourite' (much like Let Me In).

    Great review though!

  4. Thanks. It's especially worth seeing the Swedish version if you plan on seeing the other two original movies. Let's hope they do go on and make the other two US versions with the same actors.