The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (dir. David Fincher)


I’ve probably gone back and rewritten this review multiple times over the past few hours. I’ve been struggling to come to a final conclusion to how I felt about the film. On one hand it is a hollow crime thriller, all polish and no substance, and on the other it is an exceptionally crafted dark and mysterious tale of sex, corruption and murder that oozes with atmosphere. One could make the case for either, and many critics have argued in favor of one side or the other. After a lot of contemplation, I’ve come to decide that it actually seems to rely on both being hollow and atmospheric, but what continues to conflict me is whether the former can truly be overlooked even if crucial to the final product.

‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ stars Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who has recently come under a lot of scrutiny after being accused of making up a story about a wealthy executive and losing the case of libel brought upon him. Facing financial and credibility problems he is hired by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) a wealthy entrepreneur  who wants Mikael to solve a ‘cold case’ that has haunted him for forty years, that being the disappearance of his grand-niece Harriet who he believes was murdered by a member of his corrupt family filled with Nazis and recluses. As Mikael delves deeper into the mystery of her disappearance he hires the assistance of Lisbeth Salander, a goth-hacker with a dark past who has her own personal issues to deal with, specifically a financial guardian who wants sexual favors in order for her to access her money. When they are finally brought together they discover the dark secrets of the Vanger family and its links to a serial murderer case that begins to threaten their own lives.

David Fincher, who directed ‘Zodiac’ and ‘Se7en’, is no stranger to graphic and dark thrillers so it is no surprise that he handles the creation of ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ with a level of competence few other directors could have. Along with the help of cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth and being set in Sweden the film has a very dark and cold (often literally) tone, making an atmosphere just as chilling as the subject matter and beautiful to look at. Sadly under the gorgeous and dark visuals and the bleak and mysterious atmosphere there isn’t much to be had. There is a real lack of emotion and soul.

I can only assume that Fincher’s intentions from the beginning were to avoid any real substance, and to make a film just as hollow and sadistic as the story is was trying to tell. There is just about no emotion and so no reason to be attached to anyone except Lisbeth, but our empathy for her stems more from the vial acts we see acted upon her and less from truly knowing who she is, and why she is so emotionally restrained. It is not until the last twenty minutes that she gets any sort of development, but was it too little too late? Again I cannot decide. One could argue that this insight into the character earlier on would have made us care for her more, which I can understand. But I also question whether or not she could have even opened up the way she does at the end without having first gone through the events of the film, in particular the relationship she has with Mikael. Either way, I’m just glad Fincher went with Rooney Mara to play Lisbeth.

It is hard not to compare both film versions of the Lisbeth character, and even harder to choose which was better. This is mainly because both films, although similar in many ways, have very different tones. The Swedish version is a much more straight forward thriller and Rapace’s Lisbeth fits that film in being just a strong and tough individual, though there doesn’t seem to be too much below her surface and most of the development of her past is shown. Mara’s Lisbeth is a much more complex character, and although the film doesn’t give her much depth in terms of story until the very end, Mara gives off hints of a disturbing past just in the way she talks and moves, especially when men get too close to her. In reality she is a much weaker character than in the Swedish version. I personally liked that soft side because it makes her feel more like a vulnerable woman so when she fights back it feels more powerful.

It is this humanization that really helps propel Fincher’s adaptation over the Swedish version in my eyes. Even Daniel Craig, who put on a very good performance, is given a lot more to do and a much more interesting personality. He gives the character a bit of charisma, and wasn’t just a monotonous individual, like in the original, making it easier for us to care for both him and Lisbeth. It also makes their odd but provocative relationship seem more genuine and intimate.

All of this stuff I loved…but then I fall back to feeling like it was all for nothing. I mean it looks pretty, and the mystery is intriguing and the atmosphere is dark and cool, but once it is all over nothing really sticks other than the technical aspects. This isn’t helped by the fact that it over stays its welcome for the last few minutes, even if it adds to the characters. Luckily the pacing is done well enough to never make it feel boring but it does end up being rather anti-climactic. But I feel a second viewing is necessary.

With that said, as conflicted I am about everything else one thing that I can say for certain was fantastic is the score. It was crucial in the creation of the moody and dark atmosphere. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who did the Oscar winning score for ‘The Social Network’, continue to impress and help give the film a pounding and chilling heartbeat. Also the ‘Bondesque’ opening credits, a brilliant animation of dark tar, leather and gothic imagery set to Karen O’s cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’, was absolutely stunning.

So overall I will say that it is an incredibly well-crafted and dark thriller with fantastic visuals and a wonderful performance by Rooney Mara and because of that it certainly deserves a lot of credit but below the surface it is a rather hollow and anti-climactic story making it hard for me to love it as much as I might have wanted to. It also did not help that going into it my anticipation was at an all-time low due to the hype that was built up around it and by how much I liked the original. So for now I’ll just say I enjoyed it for what it was, it certainly is well crafted enough to deserves the praise it is getting, but a second viewing will determine whether or not I truly thought it was a great film. Still I recommend it for those interested.

12 responses to “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (dir. David Fincher)

  1. Pingback: Quick Review: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (dir. by David Fincher) | Through the Shattered Lens

  2. Finally saw the film last night and I must say that my feelings about this film pretty much mirrors your own. Which brings up the point of why this film was even made to begin with other than to showcase Fincher’s expert handle of a dark material and, to a certain extent, putting a Hollywood coating (some would call it making the story more cinematic over the original which was more like a tv procedural) on the whole endeavor.

    As for the Lisbeth role and how Mara’s portrayal of this iconic female character has become a major divisive subject to film fans I do see how she’s become more vulnerable and character who seems like a lost individual looking for a way to be more inclusive. She’s definitely not the pure outcast (as Lisa Marie points out in her own take on the film) the way Noomi Rapace played her as.

    Just to make this brief as I still gather my thoughts I do see this Fincher remake being more Mikael’s film than Lisbeth. Not to get all into the gender issues this remake brings up, I do see how much more confident, aggressive and protective Craig’s Mikael was over Blomqvist’s from the original.

    All this doesn’t mean the film fails in not being an entertaining film, but it does show that changes were made from the original Swedish film to this remake to make certain characters be more palatable to a new audience who either hasn’t seen the original or didn’t like it.

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    • The thing is though — the Girl with The Dragon Tattoo is only interesting if you take it from the point of view that it’s about Lisbeth. Once you make the film about Mikael, then what you have is a film about a boring, self-righteous guy solving a murder mystery that really doesn’t add up. So by making this film about Daniel Craig, the filmmakers revealed that they really didn’t get why the character of Lisbeth is such an important character for viewers like me.

      Now, I know that there are some self-declared “feminist” critics who are claiming that this film is all about girl power and you know what? Those critics just prove that there’s more to being a true femenist than just saying that you are. This was a deeply sexist movie and shame on them for not only defending it but promoting it as being some sort of example of empowerment.

      When Daniel Craig delivers that “I want you to help me catch a killer of women” line, you’ll notice that he emphasizes two words — “help” and “me.” Lisbeth is subservient to him from the minute he tells her to send her girlfriend home.

      (And, I find it interesting that this supposedly empowering film was advertised with the emphasis being on “a killer of women.”)

      That doesn’t mean that it’s a badly made film or that it can’t be enjoyed for what it is. But seriously, when I hear people claiming that this film is about “girl power,” it makes me sick.

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      • That is one problem I’ve had with the responses, I would never have viewed it to be a film about ‘girl power’, and I still don’t, if it wasn’t for all the blogs and critics focusing on that aspect. I understand that maybe the books and the Swedish version put that front and center, but in my opinion Fincher was less interested in just making a film with a strong female protagonist, but rather make one that is vulnerable, still struggling to figure out things such as being around men, sex, trust, etc., and maybe that submission to Mikael, how it hurts her in the end is just another lesson Fincher wanted to put her through; because I don’t think we know enough about her past in this version, or how she might evolve under Fincher’s guide in possible sequels, to say for sure what sort of character she was meant to be in this adaptation. From what I’ve read Fincher himself hasn’t declared this some sort of “girl power” film, he was just interested the interactions of those two characters. Maybe in the sequel he will promote that aspect more, maybe he felt she needed to once again be hurt by someone she trusted like Mikael to really transform into the sort of independent and strong individual many want to see.

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        • I would argue that if that was what Fincher was aiming for than perhaps he shouldn’t have made a film out of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo because the reason why both the literary Lisbeth and Noomi Rapace’s Lisbeth have become iconic is totally because of “girl power.” The whole thing’s kinda pointless once you take out the girl power.

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  3. But there in lies the problem for me, because I did find it to be sort of pointless and believe that those feelings stem from Fincher not making Lisbeth a very strong female protagonist and instead a vulnerable one because he was more interested in her interaction with Mikael and less about representing ‘girl power’, and although I think the character was interesting, she did nothing but help move the story along, which made it feel pretty hollow. Plus, knowing the sort of film’s Fincher has made in the past, I think he was more focused on the atmosphere, and graphic moments then making sure Lisbeth was a strong character, because the story he was telling really didn’t require her to be, but that is what everyone wanted because of how they viewed the original and the character in the book, but many forget that in the translation from book to screen sometimes screenwriters and directors change the characters to fit the tone/story they wish to tell and it felt like Fincher wanted a Lisbeth who was very conflicted, clearly having gone through some terrible shit in her life that has left her vulnerable and untrusting and maybe yes too reliant on Mikael’s character but it does come back to bite her in the end, she learns from it, which as I said makes me feel like if Fincher were to make a sequel he would make Lisbeth a much stronger character after having been fooled by Mikael. Or maybe not. Who knows XD

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    • Honestly, it wouldn’t bug me so much if the Americanized version of Girl With The Dragon Tattoo had actually been Americanized. If, for example, they had moved the action to the U.S. and made all of the characters American (as opposed to making them Swedes who spend their spare time speaking in heavily accented English), Rooney Mara wouldn’t bug me so much because I then I could simply say, “Well, that’s the American Lisbeth.” But by continuing to set the story in Sweden and telling the exact same story as the original film, I’m kinda left wondering just what exactly the point of this film was, beyond retelling the story without subtitles and with a much more needy (and, therefore, much more safe) Lisbeth. To be honest, I almost wonder if the film establishment is just prejudiced against Sweden. Ultimately, this film feels not only sexist but xenophobic as well.

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  4. “To be honest, I almost wonder if the film establishment is just prejudiced against Sweden.” How so? It isn’t the first nor the last remake of a foreign film, and I’m not sure how it could be consider to hold a hatred towards foreigners/foreign films when it took the chance of keeping the original setting, and casting many foreign, including Swedish, actors.

    Also, and you could say it is because I’m a man, but the whole sexism argument continues to confuse me when some female bloggers loved what they saw and others thought Fincher’s decision to make her a more vulnerable character was sexist. It was such a polarizing character, and I wonder how much of that stems from expectations and how much of it is about what actually happens on screen.

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    • Much as there were slaves who worked in the house (as opposed to the fields) back in the 1800s, there are female film bloggers and critics who will willingly sell out in order to secure their position in a patriarchal society.

      As far as the film industry being xenophobic — well, it is. The establishment assumption behind this rehash of GWTDT seems to be that the character of Lisbeth Salander was such a good one that only an American film could do her proper justice.

      Or something like that. 🙂

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  5. Well, not sure if I can agree with you there. It seems to boil down more to Hollywood being Hollywood, it was inevitable for this popular book series to be adapted with or without the Swedish version because no matter what film bloggers or critics say the general movie going audience prefers not reading subtitles, and as I said, Fincher’s intentions don’t seem to be focused on trying to make a “better” version of Lisbeth, he seemed more interested in the thriller aspect, evident in his past films, and the interaction between someone like Lisbeth and Mikael needing to work together to solve the case, which he has said in interviews. I especially find it hard to think he thought he could do a better job, “different” but not better, seeing how there was talk of him trying to help the Oscar campaign for Noomi Rapace.

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    • I will say one thing about Fincher — even though I’ve found his latest films to be a bit overrated, he always comes across like a remarkably level-headed guy in interviews. While I wasn’t a huge fan of The Social Network, I did think that Fincher’s direction helped to disguise just how shallow Aaron Sorkin’s script really was.

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  6. It’s certainly worth seeing if you missed the original. If you saw it, however, there’s no way of unseeing it, and nothing in the new one to top it. Craig and Mara are great here though and Fincher brings so much more to this film like I was expecting too. Good review.

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