The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) Review


David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is about as good as its nauseatingly dense source material would allow. I’m no fan of Stieg Larsson’s novel, nor the original Swedish film version. Fincher, however, is able to milk this puppy for all its worth. It’s pulp for mass consumption. It hides its faults behind bursts of violence in the name of girl power. Yet, somehow, Fincher (with a big assist from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) makes it compelling.

Our three primary characters are Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), and Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Vanger is a wealthy industrialist haunted by the disappearance and presumed death of his niece, Harriet. Blomkvist is a disgraced journalist hired by Vanger to hopefully give the Harriet’s investigation new life. Salander, meanwhile, is a brilliant investigator with a penchant for violence—especially against her vile parole officer. She’s brought in to assist Blomkvist in the investigation, which pits them against the Vangers—a clan of Nazis, recluses, drunks, and at least one murderer.

It takes nearly an hour for Blomkvist and Salander to connect, yet the film is oddly at its best when they are apart. Their connection isn’t developed as much as it should be, and while they’re focusing on the investigation, we’re treated to a great deal of research—leafing through archives and photo albums. The character-building stuff, however, is strong. It helps us establish an early connection to our protagonists, even if we don’t always agree with their actions.

Fincher’s direction is very good, though perhaps not as flashy as you might expect (the opening credits being an obvious exception). The mood is instead primarily established by the film’s score. Reznor and Ross, of course, won Oscars for their work on The Social Network last year. Their contribution to this film is just as strong. Without the presence of such an unusual and atmospheric score, there’s little to distinguish this film from the dozen or so other high-profile potboilers of recent memory.

The film’s other saving grace is Rooney Mara, whose portrayal of Salander is career-making. She’s a steely individual with mountains of psychological issues, yet despite her problems and some of the more disturbing things she does, she’s an immensely likable individual. She commands your attention whenever she’s onscreen, and when she’s off it, you long for her to return soon.

Daniel Craig and Christopher Plummer disappoint slightly, if only because they play somewhat passive characters very passively. Their performances, then, are appropriate, but they aren’t the most exciting individuals to spend almost three hours with. Robin Wright and Stellan Skarsgard also appear in two of the film’s more prevalent supporting roles.

I hope Fincher returns to this series for installments two and three. He’d be the only reason I’d bother to watch them because even though I did enjoy this film, it’s not enough to give the stories a pass. That said, I also hope he doesn’t abandon other properties entirely. His previous two films before this (The Social Network and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) were my two favorite films from their respective years. This one won’t sniff my top ten, but it’s better than it probably should be, and it’s a worthy whodunnit from one of cinema’s greatest modern auteurs.

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