The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011) Review

Director David Fincher is known for making dark and unrelenting films. All of his films carry a thick atmosphere that is undeniably one of his trademarks. He oftentimes deals with flawed or damaged characters. He’s made an impression in Hollywood with films like Se7en, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac and last years The Social Network. So when rumors surfaced about another adaptation of Stieg Larrson‘s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, most knew that his name being attached to the project was enough reassurance to warrant a remake/reimagining so closely after the 2009 Swedish film. Fincher’s adaptation is exactly that, an adaptation. It’s not a scene for scene remake, in fact he swaps out a handful of scenes for some that work better and some that don’t. He also changes the focus from Rooney Mara‘s Lisbeth Salander to Daniel Craig‘s Mikael Blomkvist.

Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is a well-known credible journalist who hits a rough spot of luck. He’s been working on a story that involves a huge scandal with a higher up business man named Wennerström and right when he thought he had everything in order his sources suddenly disappear. Mikael’s been setup to dry and this huge embarrassment puts himself and the rest of his magazine company in financial jeopardy. Mikael decides to use this time to cool down and stay out of the spotlight. He has a daughter who he doesn’t spend nearly enough time with and a lady on the side who’s constantly worried about him. He’s very motivated and intelligent, plus he knows when to call it quits.

That is until he gets a mysterious call from Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) with an offer he can’t afford to refuse. Vanger proposes that Mikael comes out and investigates a 40 year old missing person’s case. In exchange for a few months of his time Mr. Vanger will pay him double his salary for as long as he attempts the case and triple if he solves it. Vanger also promises Mikael that he’ll help him in every way possible to clear his name in the public. The missing person is Henrik’s niece Harriet and the suspects are him and his entire family. She disappeared off the island back in 1966 during a family get together and her body has never been found.

When things get complicated for Mikael he asks to bring on an assistant and Henrik chooses the person who was responsible for doing Mikael’s very own background check; Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Salander is a tattooed and pierced computer hacker that lives in seclusion from the rest of society.

Henrik hopes that Mikael and Lisbeth’s pairing can lead to the solving of this very personal case. The more the two unravel the more unsafe it becomes for them. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) is a classic whodunit tale with an unconventional pairing of characters and a dark and unsettling twist. It’s raw, edgy and atmospheric crafted by a man who’s known for making all of those traits stick with the viewer long after they’ve left the theater.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo works for the most part as a standalone film. Those walking into the film expecting a shot for shot remake might be disappointed, but those willing to experience Fincher’s version of the story will find more than enough to enjoy. TGWTDT relies heavily on its characters and how they all intertwine together. Each character presents an honest and likable version of themselves on the outside, but it’s their hidden pasts and dark secrets that are nestled on the inside that makes for a twisted movie.

Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist; the screwed journalist who’s desperately seeking a career revival. Mikael is a lousy father/husband, but a damn fine reporter. He’s willing to put his job first if it means a solid story will come of it and that’s really his only flaw. His lack of ability to stop reporting has caused him to become burnt out and overly tired. Craig excels as Blomkvist. He takes what could have been a typical reporter role and adds the much needed age and experience. He’s no longer Mr. Bond with an expensive suit and impressive stamina, instead he’s a middle aged reporter that’s exhausted from work and life. The case restarts whatever career he has left and from that point Craig takes the character to a new enthralling level that the original actor Michael Nyqvist never really tapped.

The second best performance of the film is Stellan Skarsgard; who plays Martin Vanger. Martin is Harriet’s brother and one of the only Vanger’s that hasn’t gone completely nuts. Skarsgard shows his veteran acting skills by soaking up each and every line. He chooses his words carefully and his actions seem even more calculated. I can’t really say much more about any of the Vanger characters without going too far into spoiler territory, so let me just end with saying Skarsgard provides the best performance from the Vanger family, with Christopher Plummer coming out of his acting coma every other scene. It’s a great experience watching such talented men like Plummer and Skarsgard engage in a script like this.

It might seem kind of shocking, but Rooney Mara‘s Lisbeth Salander is the least impressive of the bunch. Her performance is career changing for her, but it’s not as fierce as Noomi Rapace‘s in the original film. Mara’s Lisbeth is much more sickly and psychotic. She doesn’t wear the Goth attire simply to convey a rebellious image or mentally damaged past, instead she goes more for the physical looks like pale skin and deathly small body size. She still has tattoos and piercings, but they’re much more toned down compared Noomi Rapace‘s version.

Even disregarding Rapace’s performance Rooney Mara‘s still comes off as third tier. Her character is slowly given a back story that feels like it’s mostly for shock factor. When she becomes more involved with the film in the second half you’ll notice her performance a little more, but mostly because of the oddball chemistry she shares with Daniel Craig. Mara’s Lisbeth Salander is someone that most audiences will surprisingly warm up to over the period of the film, but her performance isn’t as iconic as Rapace mainly due to the focus being placed more on Craig’s character.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is without a doubt a David Fincher film. Every single shot features his signature stamp. The visuals are sharp and full of cool and dark colors. The camera stretches out over wide landscapes allowing the viewer to soak in the appropriate mood of the film. His music collaborations with composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross help establish the tone of the film early on and continue to keep the atmosphere thick. The score isn’t as groundbreaking as their work on The Social Network, but it’s another soothing set of tracks that accompany the cold snowy winter setting very well.

My biggest gripes with the film only come when comparing it to the original Swedish version. As its own film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) is an evenly paced thriller that will keep you entertained not because of the mystery, but because of how the characters interact to solve the mystery. Craig and Skarsgard provide some career best performances and Mara engulfs the darkness as Lisbeth. There are a few minutes here and there that could’ve been trimmed to keep the film feeling tighter, but they’re minor flaws.

When compared to the original I find myself scratching my head at some of the changes Fincher made. Little things like the way he presents a scene isn’t what bothers me, but it’s things like Lisbeth and Mikael’s first encounter that goes from feeling perfectly placed to forcefully thrown together. I also didn’t care for his attempt to add some humanity to the rapist. In the original that scene was an important point in the film because it got across Lisbeth’s state of being and how rational she actually was considering the circumstances. In Fincher’s version the character is still a slimy pig, but he’s given a moment of redemption that lessens the impact of what follows.

The biggest misstep is the ending. Fincher’s final minutes of the film don’t close on a traditional cliffhanger leaving you excited for more, they instead close leaving a weird feeling in your stomach. You’re meant to feel something towards a character that I just couldn’t feel. Yes, I still want to see Fincher do a second film and continue the series, but not because of the ending he chose. It changes the dark series into a sick love story and that just didn’t sit well with me.

At the end of the day it all boils down to what you’re expecting going into the film. If you’re new to the series then get ready for a wild ride, but if you’ve seen the previous films or read the books you might want to adjust your standards. I can’t comment on how faithful Fincher’s version is to the book, but when compared to the original film it’s drastically different. Some changes were for the better and some weren’t. He switches the focus from Lisbeth to Mikael and he opens up the film to insert some humor and more dramatic performances. David Fincher‘s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo isn’t as much a murder mystery as the original one is, but it’s instead a massive clash of good and bad characters, mostly bad.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) – 8.5/10

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