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Written by: Sam Fragoso on December 21, 2011

December 21, 2011 | 28 comments | Featured, Old Format

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

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.

Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig star in David Fincher's "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo"

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.

Rating: ★★½☆

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Cast: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer

Director: David Fincher

Writer: Stieg Larsson, Steven Zaillian

Runtime: 158 minutes

Genre: thriller, drama

Trailer The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


There are 28 comments for this post.

  1. Bonjour Tristesse on December 21, 2011 10:22 am

    Interesting review Sam. I think this is one I’ll wait to catch on Blu-Ray.

  2. Duke on December 21, 2011 11:00 am

    I can’t even imagine how interesting the film would look on Blu-Ray … good call.

  3. relationship on December 21, 2011 11:22 am

    Thanks for that. Great information.

  4. Duke on December 21, 2011 12:20 pm

    Your welcome.

  5. amy on December 21, 2011 12:30 pm

    This is pretty much like a review for the Swedish version, where people focused their good points on Noomi. While the Swedish version seems to lack in style and pacing, though I think it’s slow because we get to find more about the case, this one has more in style and hyper pace xD

    Thanks for the review.

  6. Duke on December 21, 2011 12:35 pm

    Definitely has quite a bit of “hyper pace”.

  7. Matt S. on December 21, 2011 1:47 pm

    Great review Sam. I’m kind of glad you didn’t like it as much as most, seeing so many perfect scores and reading all the same reviews, but from different people gets really old haha.

    As acclaimed as it is, with Fincher’s other brilliant work still to come, I have a feeling no one will really care about this one anymore once the initial impression wears off.

  8. Duke on December 21, 2011 1:50 pm

    Definitely. He’ll go onto making films that resonate far more.

  9. NeverTooEarlyMP on December 21, 2011 1:59 pm

    Great review. Like you I haven’t seen the other film or read the books, and so some of the reviews that other blogs are posting haven’t been as helpful to me since they were mostly comparisons to things I didn’t know about! And I can’t help but think that the “3 months from now” was written specifically as code for people like me! Hahaha!

  10. Duke on December 21, 2011 3:34 pm

    Glad you caught that ;)

  11. Rodney on December 21, 2011 5:36 pm

    Having recently watched the original Swedish film version of this movie, I’m keen to see how similar or different they both are. I was thoroughly impressed with the Swedish version, so I’d be interested to see whether you think the Noomi Rapace edition was better or worse than Finchers – I’ve heard they’re similar and that Fincher’s version is a little tighter in narrative. I’m going to check this out on Bluray next year, I think.

  12. Duke on December 21, 2011 8:36 pm

    I’ve been told the original films are longer and that Fincher certainly did “condense”

  13. Anna on December 21, 2011 11:10 pm

    I did my writeup today as well, and I somewhat agree with you but would like to point out that Fincher has clearly been studying some classic Nordic crime films as the mood and especially pace is something very close to them. The pace isn’t an American one, but a Nordic one and I can see how it might to someone who hasn’t watched Nordic cinema that much to plainly see it as slow. For me, it’s very familiar, and doesn’t hinder the story or the excitement in any way. I guess it’s just something that one needs to get used to.

  14. Duke on December 21, 2011 11:14 pm

    I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again … no style or material should be a prerequisite before seeing a piece of film.

    That said … the artistic style you’ve mentioned sounds fascinating – though not necessarily satisfying. What are the effects of “nordic” cinema? Does it emphasize character development – subtleties – themes – narrative structure – etc.

    Thank you for the comment Anna.

  15. Andrew Buckle on December 22, 2011 1:09 am

    I started re-watching the Swedish version – but I had to pause it and go to work. I was losing interest before that, though. I don’t think the original is strong in any way (except maybe Noomi Rapace). It’s not particularly well directed – a lot of the scenes are very dull and not particularly inventive, and the score is pretty generic. The best moments are when Lisbeth and Blomqvist are working together, and that doesn’t happen until half way through the film. The parallel stories aren’t all that engaging, unfortunately. Still, of the three, this has the most mystery (and I like the Cosy School feel about the mystery) and is the best stand-alone story, but I feel any faults in this version’s pace and narrative stems from the source material. I will assume that Fincher will give it all the style and energy he can, but if his version is as faithful as the original version (including the never-ending conclusion) then I doubt Fincher is to blame. Really looking forward to it, and I bet I’ll enjoy it more than the original – I have decided it’s really not all that good.

  16. Duke on December 22, 2011 1:13 am

    You’re right about the never ending nonsense. It just keeps going and going and going and going … until we’re thoroughly bored.

  17. Scott Lawlor on December 22, 2011 3:04 am

    Nice review my friend. I haven’t seen it yet, but one of our writers posted a review giving it a similar score to yours… 4/5.

    I go on 27th, so I will let you know my thoughts after!

  18. Duke on December 22, 2011 3:11 am

    I believe your writer liked the film far more than I did.

    Looking forward to your thoughts.

  19. Pete on December 22, 2011 3:45 am

    Interesting review. Always good to hear a measured voice in amongst the lovers and the haters. I hope Fincher gets back to work on original material now this is done. Might stay away from this in the cinema just in case Fincher is tempted back for the sequels.

  20. Duke on December 22, 2011 4:12 am

    I’m he does so to – and for the record – I don’t hate this film. At all.

  21. Alex Withrow on December 22, 2011 5:38 am

    The movie really only picks up once the two are together, I completely agree with that sentiment. But because Lisbeth and Mikael’s scenes together are so enthralling, I was more than willing to sit through a slow paced first hour. All your points are (per usual) valid, but the movie just worked for me. Good, not great.

  22. Duke on December 22, 2011 10:10 am

    Glad you enjoyed it Alex.

  23. Andrew Buckle on January 12, 2012 7:44 pm

    I really enjoyed it. It’s hard not to compare it to the Swedish version – but as a stand alone film I think it is great. Sure, the material is flawed, but I think that is overcome quit effectively. This film is beautifully shot and edited (and picked up a win at the CCA in that category) and I was in awe of Rooney Mara’s performance. While I have found myself bored on both occasions I watched the Swedish original, I found this to be compelling throughout – and not reflective of the running time.

  24. Duke on January 12, 2012 9:12 pm

    I actually enjoyed the Swedish version a tad more than this one. The editing is both brilliant and problematic. Its cut stunningly and from an artistic standpoint, it’s mesmerizing. But … it’s too much. The film glosses over key aspects of the investigation. This always took me out of the film. We can’t quite embark on this investigation with Mara’s character – and that’s frustrating.

  25. Tom Clift on January 16, 2012 2:51 am

    Although i liked it on a little more on the whole than you, i’m basically with you on this one (surprising, i know!) Great performances, well shot (of course – it is a Fincher film) but weirdly paced. Personally i think the entire rape plotline could have been cut, not to mention two or three of the endings.

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