The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

David Fincher's Hollywood take on the Stieg Larsson bestseller is a sleek yet somehow soulless adaptation.
Tom Glasson
Published on January 11, 2012


There's a great mystery to be solved in Hollywood's remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but it's not the brutal spate of murders Stieg Larsson's heroes are trying to solve. Instead, it's why a movie with all the ingredients for perfection somehow fell short of that mark. It's certainly not the case that this was an unnecessary remake of Niels Arden Oplev's 2009 Swedish version, a great and faithful adaptation of the novel but by no means a consummate picture warranting no further attempts (compared to, say, Point Break. D'ya hear that Warner Bros? For God's sake just let it be!!).

Directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network), Girl seemed like the ideal project for a man who's made an art form out of humanity's dark side. Set in the frosty countryside of Sweden's snow-covered north, it covers kidnapping, torture, murder, rape and — without giving too much away — Nazism. If you're not one of the 65 million people who've already bought the book (or the billion who then borrowed it off one of them), Girl tells the story of Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a disgraced investigative journalist reeling from an embarrassing and possibly career-ending libel lawsuit. Absent any other options, he begrudgingly accepts the invitation of a reclusive industrialist named Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to help him solve the 40-year-old mystery of his missing niece. Recruited to assist Bomkvist is the dragon-tattooed Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a bisexual savant hacker with an abrasive personality and (entirely justifiable) penchant for punishing abusive men.

Just as it was with Noomi Rapace in the Swedish film, Mara is the standout performer in Fincher's version. Her transformation from the aggrieved ex-girlfriend of Mark Zuckerberg in the opening scene of The Social Network to this pierced, animalistic and almost androgynous avenger is nothing short of astonishing. Compared to Craig's altogether monochrome performance, Mara's scenes are tense and compelling throughout, yet even they aren't enough to save this violent, 2 hour 40 minute epic from periodically dragging. Perhaps it's because as a murder mystery Girl is a far cry from the complex and sophisticated plot of Fincher's earlier film Zodiac, just as it fails to unsettle in quite the same way Se7en did.

Not that there isn't also a lot to love. Jeff Cronenweth's cinematography is exquisite and the movie's opening credits are simply breathtaking. Highlighting Fincher's background in music videos, Girl opens with a pulsing goth-rock cover of Led Zeppelin's 'Immigrant Song' by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross while fetish-infused visuals of oil-drenched figures writhe across the screen, not unlike the introduction to 1999's Bond film The World Is Not Enough.

Which brings us back to the start. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a stylish, confronting and faithful adaptation of Larsson's novel that for some reason just fails to match its potential. It's a fascinating mystery — only not quite the one Fincher set out to tell.


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