Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


I’ve gone on record stating that American remakes of foreign movies are about as stupid an idea as mixing scotch with vodka. Look at how awful Let Me In was in comparison to the masterful Let the Right One In for a good example. But when I heard David Fincher was adapting The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I got a little excited. Fincher is one of the best out there, and hasn’t really made a bad movie. But it’s essentially a remake of a Swedish movie that came out two years ago. Naturally, my emotions were mixed.

Setting aside all preconceived notions of “This is an unnecessary remake,” how does the movie stack up as a whole? Thankfully, this adaptation of the story isn’t as crap as I was dreading. Read on past the break to see what I mean.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Director: David Fincher
Rating: R
Release Date: 12/21/2011

Right off the bat, if you’ve seen the Swedish original or read the book, you’ll know the story going in. So I won’t be spending time going over it. Besides, if you haven’t already seen/read the movie/book, it’s best to go in not knowing anything about the story. However, I feel like this version of the movie tells the great story in a better way than the Swedish original could in roughly the same amount of time. The only qualm I have with the plot of this one is that the side characters aren’t nearly fleshed out as they should’ve been. If you know the story, you’ll know what I mean.

What the movie lacks in characterization, it makes up for it in spades in nearly every other department. Rooney Mara is on her way to the A-list with this movie as Lisbeth Salander. Her performance is one of subdued beauty, a different take from Noomi Rapace’s interpretation of the character. You may not know it, but every scene Mara is in is brilliant. It’s also great to see Mara, the modern day girl-next-door, go from sweet and charming to dark and menacing. Daniel Craig is his same old charming self as disgraced reporter Mikael Blomkvist. His performance isn’t bad, but he’s definitely not the reason you’re going to see the movie.

One of the main criticisms of the Swedish adaptation is that overall, it looks like a TV movie. And that’s a legitimate criticism. Fincher, collaborating with cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth (Fight Club, The Social Network) for a third time make this movie shine. Well, “shine” isn’t a good word choice. Bleak: now there’s a word to describe this movie. Visually, the movie takes in the landscape of Sweden, and injects it faithfully into the frame. Each shot is just as bleak, foreboding, or dangerous as it ought to be. Coupled with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score, the movie is an exercise in brooding evil and pathological corruption. While it isn’t as breathtaking a score as The Social Network’s, Reznor and Ross are still successful in capturing the mood needed for a movie like this. It’s great, but not up to the same level as their masterpiece score for The Social Network.

At the end of the day, who is this movie for? Obviously, this isn’t a movie for Joe Blow. It’s an incredibly mature look at the social status of journalism, rape, and dark family history. But more than that, this movie is for people who just like good movies. Fincher is one of the last hopes Hollywood has at making good movies, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is another solid reminder of that fact. There’s nothing I can say that could possibly convince those people that are too narrow-minded to give this movie a shot on account of its remake status. As its own movie, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is great. However, people will forever be comparing it to the original movie and to the book. But I have one question to those people: if a story as great as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is told in three different ways (as it has been) to such wonderful execution, why needlessly compare? 

Sean Walsh – I watched the original some time ago and loved it. Over the course of the past year, I read the entire Millenium trilogy and loved all three. This film, with an incredible soundtrack by Trent reznor and Atticus Ross, expert directing on Fincher’s part, and a stellar, stellar cast, continued in that vein and made it into my exclusive Sean’s Top Five list for 2011. The only thing stopping it from breaking into the 90’s is a pretty jarring change to an incredibly important plot point that I’m still confused about (largely in part to a disturbing change in audio volume during one of the most important scenes in the film), but it was not enough to ruin the film for me by any stretch. There were a few things they left out as well, most noticeable being our man Blomkvist being far less of a mac daddy (but still sewing his seed in two separate pastures), but nothing that would put a GWTDT fan off the movie. Rooney Mara, of course, steals the show as Lisbeth Salander and all I want to do is see her naked all the time now. Her performance is sensational and I hope she wins all the awards. Finally, the opening titles? They’re the stuff NIN fans’ dreams are made of. Go see this film. Right now. Get out of your seat and go to your nearest theater and see it. GO!  89 – Exceptional

Allistair Pinsof – I stopped watching the Swedish original halfway through. People’s praise of that film often made me regret it, but now I’m grateful for this because Fincher’s adaptation is the best way to experience this story. I found the original to be a very bland and badly paced film that marred an otherwise masterfully told mystery with dark themes that may make some viewers uncomfortable. Fincher’s film adapts the material with attitude and atmosphere that was missing from the Swedish original. The biggest surprise here is Steven Zailiian’s (Moneyball) script that is full of wonderful nuances that give the characters depth without attaching unnecessary screen time. The main characters are much more believable and empathetic in this version, as a result. The titular character, Lisbeth, is no longer a punk rock girl with attitude. Here, she is a damaged, menacing force to be reckoned with due to the strong script and Rooney Mara’s career-defining performance. Not since Fincher’s own Zodiac has there been such a sprawling, immaculately shot thriller of this kind. Unlike many whodunit stories, this is one film that will hold up to repeated viewings due to the artistry and strong performances within. I love the range of stories Fincher feels comfortable telling, but, now, I want nothing more than for him to complete this Swedish trilogy. 93 – Spectacular 

Alec Kubas-Meyer – Although I loved the books, I never got around to watching the Swedish version of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Now I really feel no need, since I don’t believe for a second that it could surpass what Fincher has done (though I’ll probably check just in case). Right from the opening credits sequence (which is somewhere between a Bond opening and the one Fincher had for Se7en), it is incredibly clear that the movie is going to be intense and amazing. It was absolutely those things and so much more. Rooney Mara puts on an amazing performance (best (female) one I’ve seen this year for damn sure) and so does everyone else. Stellan Skarsgård especially did an excellent job playing a truly disturbed character. As usual, Fincher’s direction is completely unmatched. Like Zodiac and the aforementioned Se7en, the film is moody as hell and I was constantly on the edge of my seat waiting for something to happen, even if it never did (much like the basement scene in Zodiac). Although I don’t know for sure, it certainly seemed like the film’s telling of the story stands on its own merits and would make sense to newcomers, but the throwaway references to things like Erika’s relationship with her husband were welcome as nods to the greater lives of the characters. I thought I knew solidly what my top films of the year were, but Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has come and messed that all up. I’m not sure I ever want to see it again, but I will be damned if it was not an incredible experience. 90 – Spectacular