Review: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

A simple question hangs over David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – What’s the point? After the critically lauded adaption of Stieg Larsson’s multi-million selling Millennium trilogy, do we need another version of the franchise? Is the investment of a major Hollywood studio and the level of talent that brings enough to justify its existence?

Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist who has fallen on hard times after he and his magazine, Millennium, printed an investigation into corporate corruption. Dragged through the courts by the libelled company, Blomkvist is left near penniless and his reputation in tatters. After resigning from Millennium, Blomkvist is a approached by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), former head of the Vanger Corporation, to look into the mysterious disappearance of his niece, Harriet, one fateful day in 1966.

Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) is the eponymous girl with the dragon tattoo. A weird, withdrawn, anti-social character, she is also a talented hacker and gifted investigator. Initially tasked with investigating Blomkvist for the Vangers, she finds things in her life take a massive turn for the worse when her legal guardian suffers a stroke and is replaced by the manipulative and sadistic Nils Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen). Eventually she is approached by Blomkvist to help with his investigation, upon which they discover a serial killer, brutal ritualistic murders, and solve what happened to Harriet.

Rooney Mara was given an incredibly difficult job to do with playing Lisbeth. Not only does she have to personify the Salander we all have in our heads after reading the book, she has to live up to Noomi Rapace’s star-making turn from the Swedish version. Mara, stick-thin and alien with her high blunt fringe and dyed eyebrows, is a lot closer in age, size, and stature to the character described in Larsson’s novels and, as such, she’s more able to embody the ambiguity of the Salander. At various points she could be a hoodie-wearing boy, an underage girl, and a strong, independent , resourceful woman. It’s only (much) later in the film we discover the character’s true age. Rapace’s Lisbeth was steely and fierce, whereas Mara’s is distant and feral. She wears her look as a warning to others, come too close and she will bite. It’s a fantastic performance that does enough to differentiate from Rapace’s while still staying close to the feel of the book.

Daniel Craig does a fine job as Mikael Blomkvist, giving us a slightly spikier version the character in comparison to Mikael Nyqvist’s. The most fun aspect seems to be Fincher’s subversion of Craig’s 007 Bond persona. Firstly opening with a twisted nightmarish version of Bond’s opening credits, and then making Blomkvist the sexual plaything of the women. He is the one who’s told to jump into bed by Robin Wright’s Erika Berger, and told to shut up as Salander climaxes on top of him. I mean, he still gets his rocks off, but for once it’s the women in charge, not him, which makes for a refreshing change.

At times, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo can be a cruel and horrific film, and Fincher does not shy away from that. It’s to his, writer Steven Zallian, and Sony’s credit that they didn’t tone it down for the US audience. It also shows Fincher’s mastery of the art that he’s still able to create and crank the tension in certain scenes despite a percentage of the viewing public knowing what is about to happen. A certain amount of recognition for that must go to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for their amazing, eery, discordant score.

I maintain that David Fincher doesn’t make bad films. And The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo doesn’t contradict that statement. That said, it does feel like a director working within himself. Almost a Fincher “best of”. We have the brutal murders suggested, not seen, just like in Se7en. We have the obsessive investigation that characterised Zodiac. Heck, even Lisbeth Salander could be the Tyler Durden for whatever it is we’re calling this decade. But as much as it reminds of those films, it never hits those heights. You never feel as downright dirty, grubby, and depressed as you do while watching Se7en, you never get the same thrill from the investigation as in Zodiac. Salander simply isn’t Tyler Durden. What you get, though, is something the equal of Fincher’s The Game, Panic Room, and Social Network. Bloody great movies, brilliantly told.

So, back to the question I asked at the start – What’s the point? Does it do enough to justify its existence? I’d say yes. Just. While it doesn’t offer anything new to the story, it does tell it more efficiently, with better all-round performances, and with a vastly superior director at the helm. And you know what? It doesn’t matter. If you prefer the Swedish version, it still exists. It’s not going anywhere.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is out in cinemas now. Go see it.

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