Screen Rant’s Ben Kendrick reviews The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The first installment in Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Series,” The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo made its English debut in 2008 (the original Swedish novel was published in 2005). As the book was gaining momentum in America, production on a Swedish film adaptation from director Niels Arden Oplev and starring Noomi Rapace (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) as leading lady Lisbeth Salander, was nearing completion – and would open to critical acclaim from international and American critics alike.
As a result, it came as somewhat of a surprise that despite the success of the series, fan-favorite director, David Fincher (The Social Network) was gearing-up for his own adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Fans of Oplev’s film quickly dismissed Fincher’s attempt as an unnecessary American cash grab – while other moviegoers anxiously awaited what the celebrated auteur would bring to his own interpretation. Now that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is officially available in theaters – can film fans just dismiss the American version or has Fincher managed to deliver yet another critical and commercial darling?
Fortunately, Fincher’s interpretation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo isn’t just a worthy adaptation of Larsson’s novel – it’s a beautifully shot, gripping, and disturbing film with terrific performances from nearly every actor and actress involved. While some film fans and Millennium readers might prefer the Swedish version, it’s impossible to outright dismiss Fincher’s film – as his Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is potentially one of the most captivating films of 2011.
Source material purists will be relieved to know that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo pulls double-duty – managing to succeed at staying true to the source material while still offering an intriguing and provocative film experience. Adaptations often have a difficult time with this balancing act and land farther on one side of the fence than the other – resulting in a chapter-by-chapter recreation (and a boring or convoluted film) or a serviceable movie experience that’s too far removed from the source material (and unrecognizable to fans). Fincher once again proves he’s deft at whittling a printed book down to its bare essentials (similar to his approach with Fight Club) and presents a tremendous amount of exposition through quick onscreen cuts and smart behind-the-scenes editing. As a result, despite serving two main characters (who don’t actually join forces until halfway through the film), as well as a flock of unique side-characters, Fincher manages to provide the audience with fascinating human drama and an exciting mystery throughout.
For non-Millenium series readers, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo introduces the character of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), an anti-social punk investigator/hacker type who lives paycheck to paycheck at the mercy of her state guardian – until she is pulled into a dangerous investigation by a disgraced investigative journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig). Blomkvist has been hired by wealthy businessman Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to investigate the unsolved case of his missing niece, Harriet, who unexpectedly disappeared forty years ago. However, as the pair dig into the Vanger estate history, disgruntled family members and disturbing revelations don’t just complicate the case of missing Harriet – they outright threaten Blomkvist and Salander’s lives.
Film fans who haven’t been following The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo production may recognize star, Rooney Mara, as Erica Albright from the opening scene in Fincher’s The Social Network. Mara was responsible for one of the most captivating scenes in the “Facebook movie” but her exchange with Jessie Eisenberg is only a precursor to the physical and psychological transformation the young actress underwent to embody Lisbeth Salander – and it shows. While Daniel Craig is excellent as Blomkvist, along with a star-studded cast that includes Stellan Skarsgård, Robin Wright, and Geraldine James, there’s no doubt that Mara provides one of the most nuanced performances that movie fans will see this year (or possibly, ever). Together, Fincher and Mara don’t pull any punches and thrust their Salander into some truly horrifying circumstances and Mara never falters in her depiction – even managing to keep the character grounded in some especially challenging scenes.
While the film’s two hour and 38 minute run-time is likely to turn off some moviegoers who don’t enjoy sitting that long for one movie in a theater, it’s hard to imagine any onscreen scene or exchange that doesn’t belong in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The movie avoids following a standard pacing structure (it includes lengthy prologue and epilogue sequences) and sometimes dwells on story elements that aren’t related to the primary mystery of Harriet’s disappearance. However, even Fincher’s side-arc character drama manages to stay compelling – and it’s unlikely that many audience members will ever find themselves bored or waiting for something to happen.
Similarly, as anyone familiar with the book series can attest, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not a simple murder-mystery that features damaged but ultimately cheery characters. The novel, as well as the 2011 film are very dark – and plumb some especially disturbing depths (think Fincher’s Se7en). In particular, one scene of sexual violence is exceptionally graphic and could be extremely disturbing to sensitive viewers. In addition, while a number of plot elements do get wrapped up, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is part of a larger trilogy – and withholds a lot of information in the interest of future installments (The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest). The main Vanger story comes to a sharp conclusion but less patient moviegoers will have to wait for future installments to really get to know the characters – and it’s possible that some viewers will get weighed down by the bleak and claustrophobic onscreen world that Fincher and his team have created.
Given the lengthy run-time, oppressive tone, and obvious withholdings for future installments, some moviegoers could have a difficult time with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and, instead, might find a slightly less abrasive experience with the Swedish version (though Oplev’s version does present similar challenges). That said, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is without question one of the most provocative films of 2011 – and will deliver a compelling ride for die-hard fans of the book series, dramatic thriller enthusiasts, as well as anyone who enjoys Fincher’s darker works.
If you’re still on the fence about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, check out the trailer below:
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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is now in theaters.