The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a journalist for the “Millennium” magazine, had just been ordered by the courts to pay Hans-Erik Wennerström (Ulf Friberg) of an amount that would almost render him bankrupt as remuneration for libel. Meanwhile, Henrick Vanger (Christopher Plummer), one of the most successful businessmen in the country, received yet another picture of a flower from his niece’s killer. Aware of Mikael’s financial situation and public embarrassment, Henrick contacted the journalist for a job involving a bit of investigating and hopefully solving a crime that happened forty years ago. Based on the novel by Stieg Larsson, the cold detachment of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” seeped through the pores of every frame yet the screenplay by Steven Zaillian found a way for us to care about Mikael and his eventual partner in solving the mystery, the magnetic and enigmatic Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). There was something great at stake for the both of them. Henrick claimed that, by the end of the investigation, he would give Mikael hard evidence that would lead to his exoneration while Lisbeth was driven by her need to catch a man who had gotten away with sexually molesting and killing women in cold blood. As they became closer to the identity of the killer, the film’s mood felt more portentous and menacing, reflected by more intense winter storms and increasingly sparse score. I was most fascinated with the scenes dedicated to Mikael asking the Vanger family (Stellan Skarsgård, Joely Richardson, Geraldine Jame) all sorts of questions about what happened or what they thought happened to Harriet. Despite the picture not having a lot of obvious chase scenes, there was an adrenaline rush because the chase took place in our minds. We looked at the suspects and ascertained the discrepancies among the pictures provided by Henrick, what the family members had to say about the matter, and how they reacted when certain questions moved toward a more sensitive subject. Watching Mikael inch toward a conclusion was like observing a doctor touching his patient ever so carefully and finding his way to the parts that hurt. We also had a chance to see why Lisbeth was the perfect partner for Mikael. She had her share of difficulties like having to report to an unethical guardian (Yorick van Wageningen), using our heroine for sexual favors every time she needed money. Despite being declared as incompetent to live on her own by the state, Lisbeth was very smart and calculating. She was more than capable of extricating herself from a man who thought he could get away with illicit and immoral activities because he was in a position of power. With Craig’s world-weary, humiliated gaze and Mara’s unpredictable bursts of intense anger, the picture was effective as a procedural and a character-driven work. But what I admired most about “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” directed by David Fincher, was its courage in taking the liberty to slightly deviate from the original film for the sake of being a better movie. For instance, compared to “Män som hatar kvinnor,” directed by Niels Arden Oplev, the ending that this version offered provided more insight on how tough and lonely it was to be in Lisbeth’s leather jacket while luring us to wonder what would happen next.

2 replies »

  1. Franz,

    On balance, I think I agree with your take, althought I suspect you liked it a little more than I did. I was impressed by Mara as Salander, and thought she gave both more depth and menace to the role than did Rapace in the Swedish version (that may be due to some directorial choices by Fincher, but I don’t have either movie fresh enough in my memory to give concrete examples.)

    I have developed something of a lowered tolerance for self-aware (meaning overly telegenic) sadism on film lately (per my critique of Drive, a movie I otherwise admired), and I think I found some of it here – in the cellar scene with Craig and Skarsgård in particular – but it’s a minor point. To my relief, the rape scene was handled deftly, and not for shock effect.

    Apropos of the cellar scene: [The killer’s] Enya moment was a brilliant touch, in my opinion. He’s like the worst sadist in recent mainstream cinema (torture porn movies nothwithstanding), and he likes to draw out the moment of death with this awful piece of “soothing” granny music! I laughed, hard. In a good way.

    Elsewhere, I think the endings of both the Swedish and the US versions ran way too long. I know it’s meant as a setup for the sequel, but to me the core of the movie is the murder mystery and the reunion. Everything else is just dead air. It made the movie feel long. But I felt the same way about the Swedish version, although their endings differed quite significantly.

    Personally, I hope the project is handed over to a competent director other than Fincher if the sequel is made (the box-office was so-so, wasn’t it?). I don’t want Fincher to continue doing remakes, particularly considering how much poorer the two next movies in the series were in their Swedish versions. (It should be noted that they were originally made-for-TV but granted a cinema release after the success of Män som hatar kvinnor.)

    • I liked that you brought up the self-aware sadism which completely went over my head while watching this movie. In retrospect, it //was// present but at the same I feel like it didn’t distract from the murder mystery, which, I agree, when you said that it is the core of the film. But then again I didn’t notice Enya playing on the background during the cellar scene. I was too preoccupied with the clattering chains and the killer’s scary facial expressions. ([!!!] You typed a spoiler, might need to edit for those who haven’t seen.)

      As for Fincher possibly doing the remakes, I’m torn. While I do want to see Fincher directing something new, I agree with you about the quality of the 2 Swedish sequels. Having said that, if anyone can improve on them, I think it’s Fincher. If he does decide to direct the other two, I think the trilogy will have a more consistent arc.

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