I suppose the only adequate way to start off my review is to tell you readers that I have not read the acclaimed novels by author Steig Larsson and have not watched the Swedish films by director Niels Arden Olev. This certain amount of viewing and reading is not (and shouldn’t be) a prerequisite to seeing the retelling by David Fincher.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo should be seen and valued on its own merit – not consistently be rigorously compared to by its previous versions. That said, your expectations will inevitably shine through and likely diminish as Mr. Fincher’s transformation is sporadically captivating, but ultimately an uneven – style over substance – piece of cinema.
For those who haven’t read the novels (over 65 million have) or seen the Swedish films, the film chronicles an investigation revolving around brutal serial murders – in particular a woman named Harriet who has been missing or possibly dead for over 40 years. On the case are the meticulous (though recently prosecuted) journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and the young, ferocious computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara).
Together the two make an excellent team dissecting a mystery that’s swept up in Nazism, religion, animals, and brutality. All roads lead to their employer Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) who leads a family with secrets up and above their heads.
Fincher does a superb job framing and displaying the relationship between Mikael and Lisbeth – who initially begin as co-workers, subtly segway into part-time lovers, and end up somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
However, despite the time being cut evenly between the two, it’s Lisbeth – played unflinchingly by Rooney Mara – that is our heroine. She’s admittingly “psychotic”, has anger problems, fear of affection, and perhaps hasn’t had a happy day in her life. That is until her relationship with Mikael blossoms into something more than paperwork. The resolution to their situation isn’t what she wants or necessarily deserves – but it does fit the tone of the film, which is bleak, intense, and harrowing.
As expected with ingenious filmmaker David Fincher (who is responsible from everything to Seven to Fight Club to last years The Social Network) The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is aesthetically stimulating. Every frame contains his enigmatic style – unfortunately his greatest triumph turns into the films worst enemy.
Too much time appears to have been focuses on the look of the film –which is beautiful, to you know, look at – but not necessarily to watch a story unfold. The script written and adapted by Steve Zillian (who also co-wrote this year’s Moneyball amongst other films) is muddled, perplexing, and next to impossible to decipher. It has emotions – visceral and cerebral – but the plotline of this mystery is difficult to follow.
A great deal of scenes captures the detective work of Mikael and Lisbeth – and yet each shot is just one quick, dashing and baffling cut after another. We want to go on this exploration, this journey of murder and deceit, with Mikael and Lisbeth. Fincher, however, won’t let us. The audience is always kept at bay with the protagonists and their actions. What turns intensifying, ultimately morphs in jarringly frustrating and plodding.
Though what’s perhaps even more aggravating is the amount of instances where the film glances of key aspects of the investigation. The final 30 minutes of the picture not only has about five cohesive endings (and concludes on a peculiar one), but rushes through the dramatic payoff. For a film that took over a year to shoot (due to poor weather and Fincher’s typical meticulous work schedule) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo feels overtly rushed. And for a 158-minute picture, that’s quite a cinematic feat.
Still, the film is marginally worth catching if just for Mara’s mesmerizing performance. Her taciturn role as a computer hacker, mentally ill 20 something is a sight to see, a haunting spectacle, and a performance that makes you clinch and applaud in equal measures.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is still gripping at times and with its tour-de-force of a cast, there’re scenes that are relentlessly powerful and intelligent.
If only the film was as staggeringly stunning as our heroine, perhaps then we’d receive something worth noting or even caring for say, three months from now.