‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated December 22nd, 2011 at 7:38 am,

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Rooney Mara Lisbeth Salander The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Review

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.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Lisbeth Salander Mikael Blomkvist The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Review

Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara in 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'

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.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Daniel Craig The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Review

Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) searching for answers

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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Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick - and let us know what you thought of the film below.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is now in theaters.

Our Rating:

4.5 out of 5
(Must-See)

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  1. Can someone tell me what was so great about this film? Was horrific and had no story. I can’t believe get pleasure out of watching rape scenes. What has happened to the human race? Not to mention none of it was believable. I mean a guy has a beautiful Swedish home and a gas chamber in the basement. KMON really?? I don’t know whether to feel jealous of writers who write such crap and get paid well for it or whether to pity the audience who is fascinated by disturbing stories. Really sad the kind of people that keep bredding today.

    • Whats wrong with being fascinated my a great mystery/thriller? If you want to pretend bad things don’t happen in real life then that’s your delusion. Some people enjoy films that are gritty and trigger a darker side. It doesn’t make them any better or worse. The only person you should feel sorry for is yourself, for being such a close-minded individual.

    • As a heterosexual male I would like to say THANK YOU! This movie was downright disgusting, and the individuals who claim it “normal” for a man to enjoy the rape scenes in this movie (read the comments below)- you’re sick, plain and simple!

    • I don’t know why you would judge people or judge the movie based on the rape scenes. Shame you weren’t able to follow the story and endulge yourself in this great thriller with its interesting characters.

    • I don’t know of anyone who got pleasure out of a horrific rape scene. I have not yet seen this film but the scene was SUPPOSED to be horrifying to convey the brutality and wrongness of what was happening.

      The scene in the original was no cakewalk from what I recall.

      Vic

  2. THEY. CHANGED. THE. ENDING! Not to mention leaving out the Cecilia storyline. When will Hollywood learn to not change the source material

    • What did they change? The ending is exactly as I remember. And I’m sorry, but when will people like you realize that Hollywood can’t do a word for word translation of the source material. The movie was already two and a half hours long and by far the best adaptation I could even think of. Stop complaining.

      • Trust me, people understand but we still have the right to be upset. I assume you thought I was referring to Salander being sad about Blomqvist being with Berger, I meant the way Harriet was found.

        **SPOILER WARNING**
        Cecilia never made the phone call, and they never found Harriet in Australia! It was completely different. Not to mention they left out the whole mole working for Millenium, that I understand would have never fit into the movie.

        I am also the guy who hated Wanted for changing the story, but we the reader have a right to not deal well with change.

      • Fincher streamlined the ending by about 100 pages but all 3 ended up at the same conclusion. I thought Finchers made much more logical sense.

        Cecilia was only really good for another 100 pages of being Mikaels’ plugging buddy after she warmed up. And if wanted that, why not the 45 pages of Lisbeth and Mikael living in his cabin while he wrote the book and did nothing but screw.

        I was surprised by Stellans performance as Martin, very very well done. He gave the role of a villain that uneasy evil feeling.

        I thought this captured the softening up of Lisbeth through out the movie quite well like she did in the book.

        I do admit that they didn’t draw as much attention to Lisbeths past which would’ve made more sense as to why she jumped on Mikael at the cabin. But her admitting what she did to her father, I don’t recall that from the first book or movie, sets up the second story without leaving it an open ended movie.

        I can over look the minor changes. It’s really not all that important to the story line. And to everyone who absolutely can’t stand a few minor changes, you still paid to go see it and you’ll most likely pay to see the next two just to complain as well. All in all to me it was a great movie, R rated, dark with no sparkles, suspense movie.

        • We will no doubt pay to see the other two movies and still complain, it’s what the internet does!

          However I wouldn’t consider the Harriet change to be a “MINOR” one whatsoever. It just feels like they rushed that whole sequence, but I understand it would’ve been too long to fit. It just caught me off guard and took time to process.

          I agree the Martin character was great. I love the way the torture chamber scene was done, and Salander saying “Can I kill him” may have been like of the movie! My girlfriend who never read the book suspected Frode of being the murderer, but said she couldn’t really believe any of the other Vangers to be the murderer.

          Would have liked to see more Berger in there, but all in all an enjoyable watch

      • They DID change the ending. It took place in Australia and Harriet was not pretending to be Anita. So it’s total BS that this adaptation follows the novel closer than the swedish film . Total fabrication. Sometimes wonder if these film critics are paid off by Hollywood.

        The original Swedish film sets up the next film brilliantly with the flashback to her childhood when she sets Daddy on fire.

        All the psychological drama of the book and the swedish film has been dumped in favor of nice dark lighting and a glossy end product. Style over substance seems to be what people want.

        • Just because people like, or at least appreciate the changes in the movie doesn’t mean that their opinion is any less relevant than yours, and it doesn’t mean that they prefer style over substance. Get off your high horse. If you’re going to debate the quality of the movie then learn to respect other people.

    • Even though they changed some significant plot points, as has already been mentioned, I think they make sense in bringing everything together with the time they have.

      Spoilers Below!!!
      By cutting out the Cecilia relationship, and the confusion between Cecilia and Amelia, they saved a lot of time, and closed off a part of the plot that was essentially a dead-end that wasn’t a big game-changer to the story. In following, by changing the way Harriet was found, the writers cut out a bunch of stuff that didn’t matter so much to the end game, with the same result; Harriet was still alive.

      By making some of these changes/omissions, I think the American version did a better job of telling the whole story. The Swedish movie abruptly ended with the death of Martin and a hint that Lisbeth had pulled something to get a bunch of money. In the American version, they went into much more detail that will tie into the other stories, including the notion that Lisbeth had actually fallen in love with Mikael, and been utterly crushed when seeing Mikael and Berger together. None of that was in the Swedish version. I like both films, but ultimately believe that the American version is a better film, including my opinion that Rooney Mara was more convincing as a truly damaged Salander. I actually liked the accent she came up with, too.

  3. Did anyone see the PG13 screenings of this movie? I was at the Rave here in L.A. (Seeing MI:4 in IMAX, awesome!) and saw 2 GWTDT screenings on the board. One had “RR+” in the rating section and one had “PG13+” in the rating. Did anyone see the PG13 and did they feel they missed anything?

    -CJ

  4. This movie was so good you guys don’t know how hard these people work to entertain us rooney did her best to fit and the eneding ended the way it did beccause they might continue the serious and they would pick it up from there of course its not going to be exact cause who would pay to see an exact movie and maybe they will go into exact deatils aboout salndera father its not going to be exact get to reality

  5. also to mention the rape scene was the most intence and for the pervs who wanted to see her naked throughout the movie was a great scene for them I TRULEY THOUGHT THIS MOVIE WAS GREAT THEY WORKED HARD KEPT YOUR MIND THINKING THROUGHT IT CAUSE I NEVER WOULD HAVE THOUGHT MARTIN DID IT AND COME ON GUYS WERE ELSE WOULD HAVE MARTIN TRYED TO KILL BLOOMVIST WITHOUT EVERYONE KNOWING PLEASE WRITE POSITIVE COMMENTS THESE PEOPLE SPENT A YEAR TRYING TO ENTERTAIN US CUT THEM SOME SLACK JEZ THERES ALWAYS GOING TO BE DEBBY DOWNERS AND HATERS!!!

    • Why is it perverted for a man to want to see a woman naked? that’s like..how life is. It IS, however, absolutely immoral and perverted to want to see that woman get raped but i mean that’s something else entirely.. NOT human nature related in any way

      • Sorry to break your bubble, but rape, murder and the pleasure derived by some in watching or committing such acts is absolutely to be found in human nature.

  6. ALSO WHAT ROONEY MARA HAS DONE FOR US PIERCE HERSELF LOSE WEIGHT DO KICK BOXING BLEACH HER EYE BROWS CUT HER HAIR EMOTIONALY PUT HERSELF INTO THE ROLE LEARN TO RIDE A MOTORCYLE LEARN HOW TO GET THAT ACCENT SHE HAD I MEAN COME ON THIS MOVIE WAS AWESOME MYSTERY AND IF YOU READ THE BOOKS YOULL HAVE AN UNDERSTANDING BTW IM PRETTY SURE NON OF YO CAN DO HALF THE STUF SHE PUT HER SELF THROUGH AND STILL BE THE BEST SALANDER EVER I ABOSOLUTLY LOVED ROONEY MARA AS THE ROLE SHE WAS DRAMATIC FUNNY UNDER SCRIBLE FEELINGS AWESOME MOVIE I HOPE SHE WINS THAT GRAMMY AWARD AND MORE GOOOD JOB ROONEY AND FINCHER AND OTHER CAST U MADE THIS MOVIE I CAN’T WAIT FOR THE NEXT ONE “THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE” IM SO EXICTED I HOPE THEY DO IT AND IF THEY DO IT THEY HAVE TO DO THE LAST ONE “THE GIRL WHO KICKEDD THE HORNETS NEST” IF THATS THE CORRECT ORDER I CAN’T WAIT :D :D IM IN LOVE WITH THIS MOVIE I COULD WATCH IT A MILLION TIMES

    • “For us”? Hang on a sec, don’t actors get paid? Yes, she did a great job as Salander, but don’t make her a martyr only because she did what had to be done to get into character.

  7. i saw this movie last night. I reallly wanted this to be a great movie…i had never read the book but had heard it was ver good for awhile. I love mystery movies and graphic movies so it looked like this was gonna be great. Sadly, it was more zodiac than se7en. The story has a great premise and is very intense (you can tell its a fincher film). But it dragged and simply did not have enough action for me. Mara was terrific, her performance probably the best I’ve seen all year. In fact all the acting was great, the mood was great, and the sets were beautiful. It was just a little too dull. Thats why it reminds me of zodiac. I know people will be mad at me for saying this but it was a decent, but not great movie 3 stars out of 5. MI4 was better! I NEVER thought i would be saying that!

    • winter blockbusters:
      MI4 > Girl with the Dragon Tattoo > SH2

    • Thank you – I completely agree. It was 3 out of 5 stars. Tops. It ran way too long. I too found it to be a bit boring, and paced too slowly. No complaints about Rooney Mara’s acting – it was the most riveting aspect of the film.

    • neither MI4 nor TGWDT are GREAT films. They’re very good films in very different genre and tone. I honestly think there isn’t one that is better than the other . MI4 restored teamwork,suspense in the franchise but is awkward in its storytelling (while MI1 was great on this aspect), the characterisation work is a bit weak and I don’t think I’m a fan of the more comic tone introduced by bird. It’s a fun ride though. TGWDT has compelling ambiance (great photography,music,costume),great casting but its decompressed storytelling can be boring for some people especially during the ending. I prefered TGWDT but more because I’m a fan of this kind of thriller. Fincher is the best when it comes to ambiance.

  8. Even though I was hesitant and doubtful about this movie going in, it turned out to be great from beginning to end. Lots of suspense and a great story that really unfolded unexpectedly (at least for me).
    The one thing that i did not like was the end (not saying that it was a bad ending I just didn’t really like the way it ended). But knowing that there is a sequel I can let it go

  9. After seeing both the Swedish version and this one, I personally prefer the Swedish one. But this version was really good too!

  10. I personally found this horrifying to watch. Despite the success and popularity of the book the film was not for cinema viewing and it was extremely difficult to watch. The graphic scenes were completely unnecessary.

  11. I’m encouraged that Sonya was equally offended by the gratuitous (shock value) rape scene. The explicit sexual and psychological violence was unnecessary to convey the darkness. Sophisticated films can convey mood and set up cause with more subtly–without having to overtly spell it out for the moviegoer. That scene is fodder for creeps to get off on repeatedly when it comes out on video.

    • No, it wasn’t unnecessary. The scene was very necessary in order for us to feel the horror that Lisbeth was feeling. If the scene was not there, it would make her subplot and triumph over the rapist much less effective.

  12. …..you people are crazy. I am so gald I didn’t finish the book before I saw the movie lol. From what I can read, it would have ruined it lol.

  13. I personally was disturbed by the American version but in a way that I wanted to be disturbed. I thought the interpretation was brilliant and exciting. Now I’m just waiting for my new favorite author http://www.bonniekozek.com/ who most recently released her next installment of her noir thrillers Just Before The Dawn. Her main character is a lot like Salandar but even slightly more disturbed. I look forward to more movies from this director.

  14. Nothing special if you’ve seen the original version, they didn’t hit the characters on the mark as the others did, except maybe Martin played by Stellan Skarsgard.

  15. Don’t read this if you haven’t seen the movie. This movie was haunting-Rooney’s portrayal was amazing, and I will admit to being completely heartbroken at the last scene when Lisbeth comes upon her new found lover(Craig) walking out arm in arm, with his married girlfriend. If you had a heart, with everything that poor girl had been through in her life, you would have felt the same. A Very powerful experience.

  16. The ending was terrible, the film would have been great if they kept to the story line.

  17. The only thing that is sad about this movie, is that apparently Hollywood doesn’t think the American audience is capable of watching a really good Swedish movie. Why do they always have to remake everything that is successful? Of course money might be the reason, but why?

    But I have to give Fincher a lot of credit. He did a great job. I was a bit sceptical about James Bond playing a journalist, but he did fine. Skarsgård did also fine, as always. But the star of the movie was clearly Rooney Mara. I just loved her how she portrayed Lisbeth Salander and that swedish accent she tried to talk with. The movie had all a good thriller needs. The ending (as it was mentioned several times already) was strange though.

    I’m excitet if they also make part 2 and 3. I would go and see them, if Fincher directs them and if they can get the entire cast to come back.

  18. I didn’t read the book, but saw both the Swedish and American versions. I thoroughly enjoyed both. American remakes of very recent foreign films seems unnecessary, but lots of us spoiled Yanks just refuse to see movies with subtitles. I’ve often suggested foreign flicks to friends/family only to be dismissed by “I want to watch a movie, not read.” Silly, but it is what it is. At least Hollywood is getting smarter about this and not watering down the original movie until it’s unrecognizable and the last couple of these remakes I’ve seen, this and “Let Me In,” were both really good movies.

  19. Don’t know what Sonia’s problem was, but I just watched it on Starz and absolutely loved it! Cannot wait for the sequels!

  20. hi! thanks for the review. I wanted to see this movie and I will…

    big fan of Daniel Craig.

    thanks again

  21. I love the book. The first movie made of 3 serious of it was absulately great but the one it’s done with Daniel Craig, I am so upset that they changed the end of the movie. It focoses on the man not the name of the movie which is ‘THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO’.
    ‘The Girl’ on the novel has a great strong attutude and it is obvious the man and the girl has no future together.
    But unfortunately in the last movie they made, the girl so typical and in the end of the movie, she wants to be with him, what, happly ever after?